A year to forget. That’s how HGCA’s Recommended List manager, Simon Oxley, sums up 2012 as far as wheat yields and quality are concerned, now that all the harvest results from the trials are available.
But the season’s suitability for assessing new varieties, as well as measuring the consistency of existing choices, shouldn’t be ignored, he says.
“Difficult seasons could take on even greater importance if future weather patterns become more unpredictable, as some have forecasted,” he says.
To start his analysis, Dr Oxley highlights a couple of strong yield performances in RL trials. “The hard Group 4 variety KWS Santiago coped well with all that 2012 threw at it, finishing up with a yield of 108%, which is consistent with the five-year figure of 107%.”
Another variety that thrived in 2012 with a yield of 110% was the soft Group 4 feed type Viscount, a popular variety in the distilling markets in the North. “However, the results are based on a limited number of trials and sprouting remains a concern, especially in a wet harvest.”
NIAB TAG trial results are very similar for yield, reports cereals specialist Clare Leaman. “The rankings are largely the same and overall tell the same story as the RL results. The candidate soft feed wheat Leeds is a variety that has also done very well for yield and Grafton came up with the goods, too.”
While the season has been disappointing for many farmers, she warns against making drastic changes. “The five-year figures are a better guide to variety performance. It’s reassuring to see that two of the main choices, KWS Santiago and JB Diego, have produced good results. Loyalty has been rewarded.”
Although she advises not to make decisions based on one year of data, she urges everyone to be aware of the new disease ratings. “Some have changed. And the other risk is lodging – again, there have been some alterations. Varieties which were expected to fall over did just that.”
The Group 1 newcomer Crusoe held on to its yield and also maintained effective disease resistance to Septoria tritici, yellow rust and mildew, reports Dr Oxley. Its quality, however, didn’t stand out.
“And another Group 1, Gallant, has also had a good year for yield. It’s an example of how early-maturing varieties have performed better than late-maturing types this year.”
Group 1 quality has been universally bad, agrees Mrs Leaman. “But it’s good to see that Crusoe’s disease resistance still stands. It complements Gallant and Solstice in this respect.”
The candidate varieties have had mixed fortunes, admits Dr Oxley. “The ones that were showing higher yields in previous seasons were tending towards later ripening. That’s been turned on its head this year.”
In effect, growers in England have had a taste of what Scottish growers have been complaining about for years, he says. “The combination of late-maturing varieties, a late season and robust fungicides – especially if head diseases are an issue – gives challenges at harvest.”
A good example is Cocoon, the latest-maturing variety on the Recommended List. “Its yield was down in 2012 compared with the five-year average. Likewise, the candidate Revelation, another later-maturing variety, did less well compared with the previous year.”
Weaver, a Group 3 candidate variety which is earlier than most of the new candidates, put in a good yield performance, he says.
Mrs Leaman agrees: “Invicta didn’t perform as well as it has done in the past. Nor did the candidates KWS Croft and Cougar, having both looked so promising. The maturity scores have been a common thread.” The NIAB TAG trials also confirmed this trend.
Mrs Leaman highlighted candidate KWS Kielder, which came in just behind its stablemate Santiago. “It hasn’t done quite as well as in previous seasons and some of its disease ratings have fallen.”
Oakley, for the first time in its career, has had a bad year, she says, while Relay has also been disappointing. “But don’t write it off yet.”
Too much rain at flowering and a lack of sunshine were to blame for the poor grain quality, believes Dr Oxley, as it prevented green leaf being converted into yield and quality.
Added to that, head disease issues, especially fusarium and microdochium, were prevalent. “We’ve seen some interesting varietal differences in the quality test results,” he says.
Hard Group 4 variety JB Diego has again given samples with good Hagbergs and specific weights, something which the variety has become recognised for since its introduction, he says.
“In the 2012 RL tests, JB Diego gave a Hagberg of 258, which compared very favourably with Group 1 Gallant’s 218. Its specific weight of 73.4kg/hl also compares well with Gallant’s at 72.6kg/hl.”
Dr Oxley’s view is that JB Diego has some interesting characteristics for breeders to explore, especially if seasons like that of 2012 should become more common.
But Mrs Leaman isn’t surprised. “It came through as a bread-making type originally, as did Duxford. There’s always been the possibility of selling it into a different market if you can keep it separate.”
Of course, the quality differences are more marked this year, she points out. “There have been some shocking results.”
The high disease pressure in 2012 showed the risk of having resistance based on a single gene and where little is known about the background resistance, says Dr Oxley.
A new race of brown rust on Stigg saw its rating tumble, while Group 3 Torch also took a hit as the new race of yellow rust became more widespread. Its yellow rust rating is now 1, as is Oakley’s.
“Torch is also susceptible to mildew and fusarium head blight. Its untreated yield is a warning as to how reliant the variety is on fungicides to achieve its potential.”
Miller support for Torch could see it remain as a special recommendation for end use, suggests Mrs Leaman. “They will need a good case, but pressure might be applied.”
Fusarium resistance also came under pressure, with both Panorama and Cocoon standing up well with ratings of 7, together with Alchemy. “A 7 is currently the best fusarium rating on the RL. Some of the candidate varieties also have this level of resistance.”
Septoria tritici pressure was also high. Group 1 Crusoe stood up to the test and maintained its rating of 7. “The only other variety with the same level of resistance is the candidate Cougar.”
|Situation around the country|
Soft Group 4 winter wheat Beluga came up trumps in Suffolk, producing both yield and quality, reports AICC chairman and independent agronomist Mike Warner.
That’s confirmed by Andrew Cooper of Walnes Seeds in Framlingham. “To be fair, Beluga has done well for the past three years. But this year it beat everything.”
Grafton has also had an outstanding year, he adds. “And JB Diego, as ever, has produced some exceptional crops.
Old favourites, early-maturing types and spring varieties have done the best in trials conducted by Pearce Seeds in Dorset.
General manager Paul Taylor reports that Solstice and Einstein have been solid performers, while the spring wheats Mulika, Graffiti and KWS Willow have all done well.
“KWS Gator came out top for yield in our conventionally-sown wheat after oilseed rape trial, followed by Cougar.”
But many varieties that looked good mid-season failed to deliver, probably because there was a lack of sunlight to feed the grains. “That led to low thousandgrain weights and specific weights. Oakley is a typical example.”
Later-sown, early-maturing varieties such as Cordiale, Grafton and Gallant held their own, he adds. “But Gallant was much more variable on farm this year, having had some excellent results in this region last year.”
The best winter barley varieties were Volume, KWS Cassia, Florentine, Matros and California, he says. “Retriever bombed, giving just 50% of its relative yield and seeming to die of eyespot.”
In Scotland, hybrid winter barleys have been disappointing for grower Adrian Ivory at Strathisla Farms. “They didn’t produce the goods. The best yield came from the conventional two-row Florentine.”