Commercial winter wheat yields of 15t/ha are within the grasp of UK growers, according to speakers at a recent Agrii open day in Wiltshire, who added that grain and ear numbers were on target in a number of this year’s trial crops.
Speaking to more than 300 growers, Agrii’s head of technology and services, Clare Bend, said trials in 2011 showed that 15t/ha is achievable at Aldbourne with the right combination of variety, agronomy and conditions.
“Our team’s Best of British Wheat 15t/ha Challenge crop on chalk near Salisbury delivered 12.7t/ha from enhanced agronomy in last year’s disappointing national harvest. This is a good 2t/ha more than the standard agronomy regime used on the control area.
“What’s more, despite being one of the wettest winters and coldest springs on record, the 2013 Challenge crops being grown on a number of southern farms this season have both the ears/sq m and grains/ear they need to meet the 15t/ha target. So we just need sufficient grain fill.”
Like last season, she fully appreciates the part the weather has to play in this. Especially so with the increasing frequency of intense weather events we seem to be having these days.
“More resilient systems are essential if we’re going to produce 15t wheat crops on a consistent basis,” she said. “So the focus across our network of R&D sites is on both the individual ingredients of genetics, nutrition, crop protection, soil improvement and rotation and, most importantly, the ways in which they interact with one another.
“Among other things, our trials are highlighting the dramatic crop performance and margin improvements possible through enhanced fungicide, growth regulator and crop nutrition regimes on a prescriptive basis. This ensures crops receive the inputs they need at exactly the right time and in the right balance for the particular conditions they face.
“Alongside conventional crop assessments and analyses, we’re exploring exciting new field techniques such as chlorophyll fluorescence to measure photosynthetic capacity,” she added.
“This offers our agronomists the opportunity to identify and alleviate crop stress before it becomes apparent to the eye and gives our researchers the opportunity to pinpoint varieties with more tolerance to both disease and environmental stresses for greater resilience.”
Other measures highlighted at the event include better-planned T(-1) seed treatments (see panel), uprated crop management in the first 30 days, alternative fungicide approaches, using protected nitrogen and phosphate and managing resistant grassweeds.
“Grassweeds are the biggest single threat UK wheat production faces today,” said Dr Bend. “Growing blackgrass resistance and increasingly limited chemistry mean we could struggle to grow winter wheat on a good 20% of our current national wheat area unless we apply the most intelligent and integrated solutions.”
Enhanced trace element nutrition delivered an extra 1.05t/ha of wheat in the absence of visible deficiency symptoms in last season’s trials, underlining the value of balanced micro-nutrient applications in boosting yields.
This uplift came from a combination of zinc, added copper, phosphite and boron in addition to the standard trials programme of manganese, copper and magnesium. And it was associated with a marked increase in the duration of green leaf area.
“This year we’re examining which micro-nutrients are having the greatest effect and in what ways,” explained agronomist Andrew Richards at the open day.
“Guided by last year’s experience and current soil and leaf tissue analyses, we’re looking closely at boron, zinc, extra copper and various combinations of the three in parallel plots of KWS Santiago and Horatio at two nitrogen levels and with both standard and enhanced fungicide regimes.
“Despite adequate levels on soil analysis in January, tissue samples in April showed a marked shortage of boron, confirming recent suggestions from our agronomists that this element might be short on chalk soils.”
T(-1) will be the new treatment timing applied to all winter cereal crops by Agrii this autumn.
Covering the first three months of the crop’s life, it moves the start of the agronomy programme forwards, so that variety and seed treatment choice become an integral part of early crop management, explained the company.
Defining it as the treatment preceding T0, Agrii stressed that the new timing will be used to give the crop all the protection it needs against pest, diseases and other stress factors in the critical post-drilling period.
Not only that, it will also allow the following T0 to T3 foliar sprays to deliver more, suggested seed business manager Rodger Shirreff.
“T(-1) involves taking a fresh look at variety and seed treatment choice, considering them as part of the bigger picture, rather than an isolated purchasing decision made in a rush at a busy time of the year,” he said.
Adverse soil and weather conditions can have a major bearing in the period between establishment and the start of the traditional spring agronomy programme, he added. “There’s a considerable gap at the moment and we believe the T(-1) approach will help to bridge this.”
Time to end stagnant wheat yields