22 May 1998

Wheat breeder shares know-how with farmers

CLOSER co-operation with breeders and end-users can boost growers profits. That is the idea behind a new wheat producers club which has won grower approval.

Tighter links can help growers exploit varieties inherent qualities and produce grain that is wanted, explains Richard Levin of Brown & Co, Bury St Edmunds.

Breeders have plenty of experience growing their varieties, yet seldom contact farmers, maintains Mr Levin. This means varieties are sometimes grown in unsuitable conditions.

Believing that a two-way flow of information makes sense, Brown & Co joined forces with Nickerson wheat breeder Bill Angus to form the Buster Club last year.

Its 10 members farm about 2000ha (5000 acres) in Suffolk.

Mr Levins number-crunching team has examined the cost of growing all the members varieties calculating the impact of reducing inputs. Cultivation charges are included to achieve comparative net margins.

"Last year members were shocked to realise they were relying heavily on varieties susceptible to yellow rust." They were even more upset when they appreciated the high fungicide costs involved, he says.

"We showed that by switching to a variety with a high level of resistance a saving of £5-£10/acre was possible. By growing a value-added type a premium was also possible."

David Waspe, who grows 55ha (135 acres) of wheat at Block Farm, Bradfield Combust, near Bury St Edmunds, joined the club to get inside information.

"I liked the idea of learning how to grow individual varieties instead of just wheat," he says. "Most seed merchants have absolutely no idea how to grow a crop. Each variety grows differently and has its own requirements. In the past inputs have not been targeted precisely so the end result has been a fudged compromise."

Last year Mr Levins team identified worthwhile savings.

"I saved £8/acre by cutting seed rate from 168lbs/acre to 112lbs. Switching from disease susceptible Brigadier, Riband and Hussar halved my fungicide costs saving another £10/acre."

"By joining the club I have learned a lot about the agronomic requirements, had access to worthwhile economic data to justify inputs, and had face to face access to the end-user."


&#8226 Optimising profits.

&#8226 Breeder and end-user info.

&#8226 Savings identified.

&#8226 Market needs explained.

Getting to grips with wheat production… Bury St Edmunds farmer David Waspe centre, flanked by Richard Levin (right) and Richard Wirdsworth of Brown & Co.