30 June 2000

Seedsmen blow hot and cold on hybrid wheats

By FWreporters

HYBRID wheats appear to be at a crossroads. On the one hand suppliers are backing the potential of lines from DuPont. Meanwhile, PBIC Monsanto is winding down its French-based hybrid wheat programme.

According to Colin Myram, technical director for distributor Crop Care, hybrid wheats look set to have a major impact on UK cereal production. But growers should not judge the long term potential of the new types by the first toe-in-the-water varieties.

Hybrids must be introduced gradually and grown properly for their full long-term benefits to be realised, he says. Two DuPont hybrids will be launched this autumn, with agronomy packages to suit their specific needs.

"Hybrid wheat is at an early stage of development and varieties are improving, as is our understanding of how to grow them. Early lines tend to be susceptible to yellow rust, but there are newer ones which are not susceptible."

Crop Care has 15 new DuPont hybrids in trial at its agronomy centre at Saxham near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk alongside 10ha (25 acres) of trials dedicated to discovering their agronomic needs.

The two being launched this autumn on Allied Mills buy-back contracts are Hyno Esta and Hyno Seha, both feed types with milling potential.

Esta was launched in Belgium in 1998 and France last year, while Seha made its debut on French farms in 1999. Esta is for early drilling, Seha for later.

Both are produced using DuPonts chemical hybridising agent. As that is unapproved in the UK, seed for this autumn will be sourced from France, costing £35-40/ha more than conventionally produced seed.

But the higher cost should be offset by a lower seedrate and 7-10% extra yield, says Mr Myram. Hybrids tiller more than normal types and tillers survive better. In trials as few as 60 grains/sq m have given a worthwhile crop.

Allied Grain Anglias seeds director Paul Brown is keen to identify varieties early that have particular relevance for parent company ABF. "We like the high specific weight of hybrid grain. It contains a higher proportion of useable starch and less bran than smaller grain from a conventionally-bred variety.

Hybrids could be useful as a third wheat as they can cope with stress and could put more profit into the rotation."

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MONSANTO OPTS OUT

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High production costs and unreliable yield responses mean PBIC Monsanto is putting a halt to the development of hybrid wheats for the UK market. The company had committed significant resources to its French operation Hybritech to develop new lines, one of the first to emerge being Cockpit. But further work has now been halted, says UK cereals manager John Howie. "The cost of producing seed is extremely high, even though we have one of the more efficient techniques. Given the state of arable farming we do not think the balance between seed cost and what farmers can expect to get back is right. When hybrid wheat performs well it performs very well. But it is not yet sufficiently reliable."

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HYBRID WHEAT

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* Extra seed cost £35-40/ha.

* Yield 7-10% higher.

* Milling potential.

* Low seed rates.

* 5-7% of French wheat crop.

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Ends.535.words.

Monsanto opts out

High production costs and unreliable yield responses mean PBIC Monsanto is refocusing its hybrid wheat breeding efforts. French subsidiary Hybritech will cease its work on developing hybrids for the UK using chemical treatment. "The cost of producing the seed is extremely high, even though we have one of the more efficient techniques," says UK cereals manager John Howie. "Given the state of arable farming we do not think the balance between seed cost and what farmers can expect to get back is right. When hybrid wheat performs well it performs very well. But it is not yet sufficiently reliable." Instead the company will now focus on a genetic route to hybrids, which could produce commercial varieties by 2007/8, says UK director Stephen Wildridge.

HYBRIDWHEAT

&#8226 £35-40/ha extra seed cost.

&#8226 Yield 7-10% higher.

&#8226 Low seed rates.

&#8226 5-7% of French wheat crop.