Recommended List:Consternation over Viscount wheat decision

A winter wheat which had been expected to replace Robigus as a major Group 3 biscuit type has failed to gain HGCA Recommended List approval for that market.


Although Viscount joins seven other new varieties on the 2009/10 list, including top quality breadmaker Gallant (see p56), it has been added as a Group 4 type, raising a question mark over its future.


Growers had sown enough seed to supply nearly one-fifth of next autumn’s C2 seed market.


“The issue is one of consistency from a couple of samples from this year’s harvest and as such nabim simply couldn’t give the variety a Group 3 listing,” said Andrew Newby, commercial director for breeder KWS UK. “They will be re-evaluating this again next year.”


Mr Newby said the firm had never guaranteed that Viscount, whose multiplication had been fast-tracked, would qualify as a Group 3 variety. “But all the feedback we had suggested it was a pretty good Group 3.”


Biscuit-making required only 0.5m tonnes a year of such varieties, he pointed out, and Viscount looked set to take a large chunk of the 4m tonne potential export and 0.7m tonne distilling market. A target 18% share of the wheat area in autumn 2009 was still realistic, he added.


Explaining the decision, RL technical manager Bill Handley said it had been driven mainly by nabim’s classification of the variety after analysing samples from this year’s harvest.


“It obviously caused some consternation when nabim said it was going to be a Group 4, not Group 3 which is where we all thought it was going to be.”


Mr Handley noted that all this year’s samples had been taken before bad weather had had a chance to adversely affect grain quality.


Viscount was provisionally classified by British Cereal Exports as a uks soft wheat for export after samples were sent to Spain, Portugal and Italy. But there remained concern that the variety might not always meet the required Hagberg specification.


“We need more data, but it may have below average resistance to sprouting, and it’s only fair to point out potential weaknesses.”


Alex Waugh for nabim emphasised the need for decisions to be evidence-based. “We never said it [Viscount] was a Group 3, and we’re always providing indications to breeders.”


BCE’s Emma Finn confirmed that on the basis of grain quality tests to date Viscount looked promising for several export markets. “The feedback is good. But we felt it appropriate to flag up that it does also need to meet the required Hagberg, for example 220.”


Farmers Weekly Barometer farmer Andy Barr has about a third of his winter wheat area in Kent down to Viscount this season.


“I’m stunned and angry,” he said. “It’s always been marketed to us as a Group 3, and we’d responded to the call for more Group 3s to be grown. Now all of a sudden it’s been downgraded. I feel misled.


“If it was only ever borderline the breeders, nabim and HGCA should have made it clear.”


North Yorkshire crop consultant Patrick Stephenson said most AICC members had viewed Viscount as a biscuit-making replacement for Claire and Robigus that if necessary could be stored in the same heap.


“KWS gave every indication that it was heading for Group 3.


“It’s not the end of the world. Few people up here have more than 10% of their areas in it. But why should we grow Viscount when there are other Group 4s, like Oakley, that are just as good and with a proven track record?”


Commenting on the Viscount decision, Ben Miflin, chairman of Crop Evaluation which manages the HGCA Recommended Lists, stressed that nabim was always careful to use the word “potential” about new varieties.


“If people like to take a gamble, sometimes they’ll win and sometimes they’ll lose.”