24 May 2002

Sturdy Solstice could enter overseas market

By Andrew Blake

RECENTLY recommended winter wheat Solstice gives growers a rare chance to drill a potential bread-making variety early and tap into fresh markets overseas, says Advanta Seeds.

The variety, recommended last autumn, yields 2% less than Option, but offers several advantages, the main one being that as a slow developer it can safely be sown early.

Key feature of Solstice, a nabim Group 2 type with good all-round disease resistance, is its stiffness, says the firms Michael Fletcher. Despite being quite tall it is rated 9 by NIAB for standing power. Only soft feeder Buchan matches it on the Recommended List.

In trials aimed at inducing lodging at Dalgetys Throws Farm in Essex the worst seen in Solstice was 5%. By contrast Malacca recorded twice that level, notes Mr Fletcher.

"It has been tested almost to destruction and it is in a class of its own."

With interest in early sowing increasing, plenty of independent work on Solstices physiology has been undertaken, he adds.

"It shows it is very similar to Consort in terms of its speed of development." That means it is suitable for September sowing.

Like sister variety Xi19, Solstice scavenges nitrogen well to produce high grain protein yield. "It is more akin to Hereward than Malacca in being able to make use of available N."

Trials are in hand to determine the best approaches to ensure 13% protein, he says.

Solstice has above average resistance to Septoria tritici and is joint top-rated against yellow rust. "It does not appear susceptible to the new Oxbow rust race," says the firms Paul Hickman.

"It is also provisionally rated 7 for resistance to fusarium on the ear, which for a quality variety is extremely important," says Mr Fletcher.

Its rating of only 5 against eyespot should not be a concern, he adds. "Matching seed rates to time of sowing will help a lot and eyespot does less damage to varieties with high standing power than those with lower ratings."

Solstices grain quality, which could always be re-evaluated, is very close to being Group 1, says Mr Hickman. That can help open doors to new markets outside the EU, he believes.

Already both Rank Hovis McDougal and Soufflet Agriculture have noted its good potential for southern Mediterranean and North African markets, an area where the UK has traditionally been uncompetitive because true Group 1 types are over-priced.

"There is a huge demand for Group 2 varieties and we believe Solstice is the best of them."

Seed availability should allow 2-3% of this autumns sowings. &#42

Paul Hickman and Michael Fletcher hope Solstices rock-solid trials promise will give growers new market opportunities.

&#8226 Early drilling Group 2 variety.

&#8226 Top rated for standing power.

&#8226 Good overall disease resistance.

&#8226 Could open new export markets.