High maintenance Group 4s earn their place in dry season

High input, high output feed wheat varieties are likely to maintain market share this autumn. Louise Impey reports

A high-maintenance Group 4 variety can be easier to grow than one with good disease resistance as it’s easier to know when to start spraying, says Simon Oxley, HGCA Recommended List agronomy manager.

“Varieties that need managing have to be planned for.”

That can make them simpler to grow, particularly in a dry season, he adds.

The hard Group 4s, which account for half of the UK wheat area, tend to fall into this description, says Dr Oxley. “The highest yielding, KWS Santiago, is typical of this type.

“It’s better than Oakley on yellow rust, similar to it in terms of lodging resistance, but no better or worse on the other diseases. It’s also later, with lower grain quality.”

A variety for this time is how Lee Bennett, arable technical manager for Openfield describes KWS Santiago. “It’s got the yield, but it needs a high input regime. And I’m not sure that its yellow rust rating is right – we could see that fall.”

All the experts agree the new variety will sell well. “There’s an inevitability about it while grain prices remain so high. And there’s enough seed for it to take around 8% of the market share.”

Oakley will remain popular, as growers value its consistency and year-on-year performance, while recognising the potential pitfalls, he adds.

But Openfield’s biggest seller in this group is JB Diego, he says. “It’s always the first to sell out. Again, it offers the consistent performance that growers like and it does very well as a second wheat. It combines high yields with good grain quality – its only weakness is a susceptibility to brown rust.”

Early type Grafton is having a tough year, he reports. “The drought means it’s too short for light soils.”

Stigg is the exception in this category, says Dr Oxley, as it’s very good disease resistance means that it can be grown with a low input regime. “That makes it a useful choice for remote fields, or for the west where septoria is the main concern.”

But Mr Bennett sees Stigg differently. “It’s a concept rather than a variety. It would make a good parent wheat.”

Soft Group 4

Three of the current soft Group 4 choices have proved themselves when it comes to distilling, giving good alcohol yields and no viscosity problems, says James Brosnan JOB TITLE?????? of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.

“Beluga, Viscount and Denman all fit the bill,” he says. “And what works for the distillers will also work for the bioethanol producers.”

However, the varieties can be pulled apart agronomically, says Dr Oxley. “Viscount is slightly lower yielding than Beluga and it must be given priority at harvest, due to its low Hagberg and tendency to sprout.”

Denman, which is new for this season, has a slight issue with standing ability and shouldn’t be grown on the strongest land, he suggests. “The same is true of the other newcomer, Gravitas.”

Beluga is the highest yielding soft feed wheat with notably stiff, short straw and good resistance to yellow rust. Good second wheat performance is another feature of the variety, he adds.

“What’s also interesting about Beluga is that it’s suitable for export,” says independent variety consultant, Mike Jeffes. “That means it could attract a £2-3/t premium if it goes on a boat, making it better than Oakley and giving it a place all down the east coast.”

Weak straw is avoided by growers at all costs, he continues. “Yield isn’t everything. Standing ability and consistency are also valued highly.”

Group 4 Candidates

Five Group 4 candidates await the recommendation decision this year – three of which are soft types and two hard.

• Soft endosperm KWS Solo is the highest yielding at 106% of the control and has already been received positively by the distillers. But growers will be wary of its low Hagberg and three rating for brown rust.

• Relay, from RAGT, is a hard Group 4 type which has attracted the attention of Barry Barker, national seeds manager at Masstock. “It’s a different agronomic type to the KWS wheats, which are all very similar. We’ll be selling some Relay early.”

• KWS Gator is the other hard endosperm offer. Similar to Oakley, it yields slightly less, but compensates for this with stiffer straw and yellow rust resistance.

• Trident is a soft wheat from RAGT, but it doesn’t meet distilling requirements. Short and very stiff, it also has resistance to orange wheat blossom midge.

• Horatio, from Limagrain, is a tall soft wheat that is suitable for distilling. It has an excellent set of disease resistance scores and could find a fit as an Alchemy replacement.

seeds focus