Farmer Focus: The secret to the perfect loaf of bread

This time of year is the best for skiing, training and meetings, and if you get a bit of drilling and fertiliser spreading in, that’s a bonus. We’ve fitted it all in this year.

Alpine skiing can be pot luck with weather and conditions, but this year my lucky group of ex-Writtle students had blue skies and deep snow.

A fantastic break followed swiftly by getting some Explorer spring barley for Budweiser sown.

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We are told not to drill this too early, ideally not before mid-March, but we saw a chance at the end of February and took it.

With soil temperatures on the rise and some recent rain, I think it was right. Time will tell.

Ferric phosphate

My annual National Register of Sprayer Operators training update was very efficiently delivered by David Felce, a past winner of the Sprayer Operator of the Year title.

It started with one attendee asking if he needed to be there, since his involvement with pesticides was limited to slug pellet application, and he reasoned that if metaldehyde was not going in his hopper in future, perhaps he could go home.

It was pointed out that ferric phosphate, although much kinder to the environment, is a pesticide. He stayed.

The AHDB/Nabim/YEN milling wheat conference was well worth the trip to Bedfordshire this year, with presentations from scientists, growers, millers and bakers.

Higher-protein wheat

With 85% of wheat milled in the UK being grown in the UK and 130m slices of bread being eaten each day, we can truly say we are feeding the nation.

Interestingly, the salt reduction in today’s loaf has caused the need for higher-protein wheat. I am not happy applying fertiliser above what is required for yield just to get higher protein in the grain, so Adas’ Roger Sylvester Bradley’s news that soil phosphorous is positively associated with grain protein made my ears prick up.

As he said, we need more on-farm experiments, more collaboration and more sharing. To this end I hung on every word of the winning YEN farmers to get their secrets of success in growing great yields of quality wheat.

I also learned new words about bread quality from a baker: butterability and squeezability. It’s really got me thinking when I’m making a sandwich.