28 December 2001

Spring wheat proves attractive alternative

SPRING wheat could be a profitable alternative to late-drilled winter wheat, with quality varieties offering a significant premium over winter feed wheats and significantly lower growing costs.

"With so much lower quality wheat being grown this season, anyone with high protein grain will have no problems finding a good price," says Simon Minns, of Driffield-based grain merchant James Mortimer.

"Spring wheat is cheaper to grow and more reliable than a late drilled winter crop, and can command a handsome premium. So 3t/acre can easily be equivalent to 3.5t from a late-sown winter crop."

For the past four years Mortimers growers have achieved that yield with Paragon, the only Group 1 spring variety. Their 2001 crop averaged 13.7% protein, Hagberg over 350 and up to 460, and 77.8kg/hl specific weight.

The variety has been grown on Steve Stubbings 269ha (664 acre) Wold chalk farm at Sledmere, near Driffield, since 1998.

Last seasons 16.6ha (41 acre) crop produced grain with a specific weight of 81.7kg/hl, 12.8% protein and 431 Hagberg. Yield looks to be similar to the 7.5t/ha (3t/acre) average of previous years.

"Rather than follow potatoes with spring barley and struggle to achieve a malting sample, I felt Paragon, with its reliable quality would give a better return," says Mr Stubbings.

"In fact, the economic performance is superior to winter or spring malting barley and comparable to late-sown winter wheat. It costs £20/t less to grow than winter wheat and with a premium of £15-16/t it gives a similar gross margin to a 3.5t/acre winter crop."

The aim is to drill spring wheat from January onwards. Last year the job was rained off until Feb 17. A little nitrogen was applied to the seed-bed, 162kg/ha (130 units/acre) top-dressed in March/April, and 44kg (35 units) given at the flag leaf stage to boost proteins.

"Paragon ripens reasonably early and is harvested at about the same time as Abbot winter wheat. It spreads the workload and improves flexibility as well as giving a good return," says Mr Stubbings.

At Hutton Cranswick, JW Thompson & Son has grown Paragon after potatoes for three seasons and has always met the top milling specification.

"This year our 25 acres yielded about 3t/acre at 15% protein and 460 Hagberg. Not bad for April- drilled wheat. It should attract a £17/t premium. We used less N and fungicide than for winter wheat so it was £15/acre cheaper to grow." &#42

Steve Stubbings and Andrew Thompson (left and right) discuss Paragons virtues with Simon Minns of merchant James Mortimer.

Variety Yield

Chablis (G) 104

Paragon (G) 97

Ashby (PG) 106

Shiraz (O) 100

Imp (O) 99

*For spring sowing.

&#8226 Premium up to £17/t.

&#8226 Cheaper to grow than w wheat.

&#8226 More reliable quality.

&#8226 No latest safe drilling date.