Making sense of wheat choices

The Group 3 and 4 sectors are fragmented with many varieties to choose from. Louise Impey takes a look at the options.

High-yielding feed wheats, which occupy one field in every two, are expected to continue to dominate cropping in 2012-13, making it an uphill struggle for the Group 3 varieties to gain ground, agree commentators.

Yield is king while grain prices remain high, believes David Waite of Frontier Agriculture, who adds that the decision to grow a hard or soft Group 4 variety doesn’t really matter and comes behind output.

“There are some agronomic characteristics which make a difference to variety choice, such as suitability for early drilling, but otherwise growers are looking for yield.”

That means top-selling varieties such as KWS Santiago, JB Diego and Conqueror will remain popular this autumn, he predicts. “Growers will stick with them. They’ve performed well and produced the goods, although some are being given quite a test this year.”

New additions to the HGCA Recommended List for this year include the soft Group 4, Horatio, and hard types, Relay and KWS Gator. While none of them have taken yield to a new level, they do bring some attributes worthy of consideration, says Mr Waite. “Second wheat performance is one of those.”

The fact that just six hard feed varieties dominate more than 40% of the UK wheat area this year shows what the newcomers are up against, says HGCA’s Recommended List manager, Simon Oxley.

“But now that we’ve been able to update the information on varietal susceptibility to the new race of yellow rust, we could see some of these varieties losing their appeal. The ones that are very susceptible to it are antisocial choices. They need attention right from the start of the growing season.”

No-one was fully aware of just how aggressive the new race is when it was first discovered, he reveals. “Fortunately, timely fungicides have worked well and seem able to protect yield potential. But not all growers want to adopt a high-maintenance approach.”

Growers who are finally giving up on Oakley have to decide what they are going to replace it with, says variety consultant Mike Jeffes.

“The safe option is to switch to JB Diego,” he advises. “It won’t give you a higher yield, but it won’t let you down either. It’s stiff and produces a good grain sample.”

The alternatives are to grow either Conqueror or KWS Santiago, depending on soil type and rotational position, or to make the jump to candidate KWS Kielder, he suggests.

“It’s a big step up in yield and there will be seed around. The downside is that we don’t know how to grow it yet and we need some time to understand it. It does get yellow rust, but it’s not as bad as Oakley.”

Barry Barker of Agrii points out that the simplicity of growing hard feed wheats is too attractive for growers to ignore.

“The millers have been lamenting the decline of the biscuit sector, but there isn’t anything that’s going to change the current situation in the next twelve months.”

He believes end use is colouring people’s judgement and causing them to ignore varieties which have quite a bit to offer. “The tendency is to think that if it’s not a hard feed wheat, it isn’t worth considering. As a result, some very good varieties aren’t getting any market share.”

He describes the Group 3 and 4 sectors as fragmented. “No single variety is taking 20% of the market, as has happened in the past. Instead, we have the likes of JB Diego and KWS Santiago with about 12% each of the Group 4 market, while Scout has 5% and Invicta 4% of the Group 3 sector.”

Growers should include agronomic characteristics in their decision-making process this year, he says. “There’s high disease and lodging pressure around, so not to have some variety spread in terms of risk would be wrong. We know some of the disease-resistance scores will be altered.”

Lee Bennett of Openfield suggests Relay has something different to offer the hard feed sector. “It’s a natural second wheat and has excellent tillering ability – a useful attribute where blackgrass is causing problems. It will start to have an impact on the market this coming year.”

He can also see a place for KWS Solo, despite the fact the variety failed to make the Recommended List. “It’s a high-yielding soft feed wheat which should find favour, especially once bioethanol production comes back on stream.”

Otherwise, he reports the Group 3 variety Invicta is selling well, with Torch seed also moving. “But the Group 3s are having to work hard for their place.”

Invicta is one of the better Group 3 choices in terms of yield, says Mike Jeffes, but Scout remains popular for its easy management and miller support.

“Growers are prepared to forego some yield for a variety that is easy to farm. It’s a true Group 3, giving a really nice sample, and it can be drilled early. This flexibility means that it’s hung on to its market share, despite lower yields.”

Soft wheats: distilling suitability for Scotland

Two characteristics are needed in a variety for the distilling market, explains James Brosnan of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.

“They must be able to produce a large amount of alcohol yield, and they mustn’t have any viscosity issues in the plant, as these can affect processing.”

Both soft Group 3s and 4s are potentially suitable, he says, with grain required for grain whisky production, as well as gin and vodka production.

“Of the current Group 3s, both Invicta and Tuxedo are good choices. In contrast, Cocoon and Warrior don’t suit, nor does Torch.”

There’s more choice among the soft Group 4s, with Viscount and Beluga producing very high alcohol yields and having no processing issues. Alchemy, which has been a faithful servant to the distilling industry, is also suitable, but produces slightly lower yields, he says. Newcomer Horatio is also acceptable for distilling.

Bill Handley of HGCA points out that both Alchemy and Viscount are susceptible to the new Warrior race of yellow rust, making robust fungicide programmes essential.

“Beluga has the high yields and short, stiff straw growers like,” he says. “It has good yellow rust resistance, but may need help with mildew and brown rust.”

Group 3 and 4 candidates

The same two names keep coming up when the list of fifteen Group 3 and 4 winter wheat candidate varieties is discussed, although most experts predict it will be easier to pick out any other strong contenders once the demanding 2012 growing season has concluded.

Potential Group 3 KWS Croft and hard feed KWS Kielder are considered by most to offer considerable yield improvements in their relevant market sectors.

While the millers verdict will be an important factor for the future of KWS Croft, which has a yield of 109%, KWS Kielder’s bumper yield of 113% is expected to be too tempting for feed wheat growers to ignore.

“The growing season is doing us a favour,” says Clare Leaman, of NIAB TAG. “There’s a whole group of candidate feed varieties sitting together on the list with a yield in the region of 109%. It’s hard to pull them apart on paper, but I suspect the season will do that for us.”

Many of them have late maturity scores, she says. “And late varieties have been difficult to sell in the past.”

Straw strength could also come under scrutiny. “There are a few candidates that might prove to be a bit weak in the straw this year. Growers tend to avoid these types, especially if they are on fertile soils, so their future is less certain.”

Dickens, from Agrii, is one of the very few earlier types in contention, says Barry Barker. “It has yields at the Oakley level and good grain characteristics. It’s a solid Group 4 and the disease ratings are holding up.”

The other candidates attracting some interest include RAGT’s Cougar, Limagrain’s Myriad and Senova’s Havana.

Myriad, a hard feed wheat, offers robust disease resistance and orange wheat blossom midge resistance, according to Openfield’s Lee Bennett. “It’s a very respectable winter wheat and I can see a place for it.”

Cougar is a soft feed wheat, which combines later maturity with good disease-resistance scores. Not considered to be in the running for distilling, its grain characteristics are lower than some of the others.

“But the later maturity can be used as a management tool on farm,” says Mr Waite.

Havana, bred by Blackman Agriculture, is a hard feed wheat with good all-round disease scores and orange wheat blossom midge resistance. With short, stiff straw, it also has good grain quality characteristics.

Torch buyback contract

ADM Milling is offering buyback contracts for the new Group 3 variety, Torch, for the 2013 harvest.

A dedicated supply of Torch is required to supply flour to United Biscuits, for the manufacture of well-known biscuit and snack brands, including McVitie’s, Carrs and Jacobs, reports the company.

See more