How to select the right varieties for high crop yields and premiums

Varieties with premium-earning potential, or extra market appeal, are finding favour as margins come under pressure. Louise Impey asks the experts at NIAB TAG how to add value through variety choice.

Premium markets for wheat are plentiful, but some will need careful planning for and others will be dictated by the season, says cereals variety specialist Clare Leaman of NIAB TAG.

By far the best known market sector for its additional earning potential is the Group 1 bread-making category, which currently accounts for around 20% of the UK wheat area, she highlights.

See also: How wheat variety resistance can help in septoria fight

“Premiums were very good last year and growers were rewarded accordingly,” she reports. “This season, there is another high-yielding newcomer to consider, so the interest in quality varieties with more to offer has been maintained.”

The newcomer, KWS Trinity, joins the Group 1 category with a yield of 102%, putting it at the same level as last year’s addition, Skyfall. Both have good disease resistance and full approval from Nabim, so are bound to tempt growers.

“Skyfall, Trinity and Crusoe will be the three main quality varieties,” she predicts. “Gallant and Solstice areas are likely to suffer, but these two varieties have been very good for a number of years.”

For growers moving on to one of the new varieties, she highlights that grain protein content is likely to be more difficult to achieve in Skyfall and Trinity. “There’s talk about premiums being lower in 2015, but they should remain good for the right specification. So be on top of your nitrogen management.”

Group 2

The Group 2 market, with its lower level of premium, also offers opportunity, she continues. “We have Cordiale, which has the best grain quality of the Group 2s, but a lower yield. If demand for it remains, it’s a good option.”

Otherwise, she points to another new choice, KWS Lili, which tops the Group 2 sector with a yield of 105%. “This variety is bound to interest growers with its wide market appeal and flexibility.”

However, they should plan where they’re going to sell it, she advises. “Lili’s grain protein content won’t just appear from nowhere. There’s a decision to be made about whether to push it for yield, aim for a premium or target the export market.”

KWS Lili doesn’t offer the same quality as Cordiale, she warns, so the premium will be less and is hard to predict. “It’s a gristing variety, similar to Panorama.”

The Group 3 biscuit market is another opportunity for growers who are in the right location or close to an export facility.

Britannia, another variety to join the Recommended List at the end of last year, represents a step change for the Group 3 sector, believes Mrs Leaman.

“Britannia has a yield of 104%, which brings it up to the feed wheat level. We haven’t had that for a while and it is a breakthrough for the Group 3s.”

It has good biscuit quality and is suited to the export market, she adds. “Its straw isn’t the strongest in that sector so growers will need to make sure that they keep it standing.”

Otherwise, Scout, Claire and Invicta are still producing the goods as far as the millers are concerned, she remarks.

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Distilling

For distilling, she picks out Icon and Conversion from the Group 3 category and Leeds and Revelation of the soft Group 4s.

“Familiarity is important to distillers, so they can be slow to adopt new varieties. The question that growers will need to address is why they are growing a Group 3 variety for this market, when an alternative choice such as Leeds has a 4% yield advantage.”

Revelation is another good example of a soft Group 4 variety that meets the distilling specification. “It has good disease resistance, which is something that growers are paying far more attention to.”

Mrs Leaman’s final variety picks for premium markets are from the hard Group 4 varieties. “Millers have always bought feed varieties to some degree and JB Diego has filled this market recently.”

JB Diego’s superior grain quality has seen it command a premium in most years, she continues. “It’s only around £2-3/t, depending on the season. If you can store it separately, it has the potential to go to a mill.”

Likewise, Senova’s new feed wheat variety, Costello, should follow suit. “Costello has even better grain quality, with a very high specific weight and tremendous Hagberg, along with a yield of 104%. It’s another variety that could also make you some extra money.”

Oilseed rape

There are two premium oilseed rape markets for growers to consider this year, explains Simon Kightley of NIAB TAG.

The different oil profiles found in high erucic acid rape (HEAR) and high oleic low linolenic (HOLL) varieties make them suitable for specialist applications, he adds, for which there are various contracts and premiums available.

“HEAR has been around for many years,” he says. “In the last decade it has become dominated by hybrid varieties, with Palmedor and Eraton currently claiming the principle market share. There’s around 25,000ha of the crop grown in the UK.”

Otherwise, the older variety Marcant has been phased out, while Roca is just coming into commercialisation, he notes. “It looks like it will be an improvement, but we will know more about it later this year.”

Mr Kightley believes that Palmedor and Eraton are similar, with Palmedor having a slight yield advantage. “The data on them is fairly thin, so it’s difficult to give definitive yields. In general, the HEAR varieties have a yield penalty of around 10% compared with the best new standard oilseed rape varieties.”

The oil, which contains around 50% erucic acid, is used in the production of erucamide. “Its main use is as a slip agent in the manufacture of cling film and plastics.”

Demand is steady, in the order of 25,000ha/year, and premiums are at a level to encourage farmers to grow them, although different contracts do vary, he adds. “It means growers will get an additional 15-20% over the ‘00’ crop price, with oil premiums also applying in some cases.”

His advice is to be certain of these details before signing a contract. “There are variations, so it’s worth taking the time to check.”

The added inducement is in recognition of the attention to detail required. Growers of HEAR varieties have to observe isolation and segregation practices, to avoid any contamination. “Rotations have to be thought about, as you also need to minimise volunteers from causing problems.”

A production line of new HOLL or Vistive varieties, with a succession of improving hybrids bringing advantages over the initial lower-yielding, open pollinated types, is now evident, continues Mr Kightley.

“These are grown for a different market. They produce a healthier frying oil, with good stability and a longer shelf life, without the need for hydrogenation. Not surprisingly, the food industry is very interested in them and there’s strong demand, which is outstripping supply.”

The most conspicuous HOLL variety is the new addition to the Recommended List, V316OL. It tops the East/West region list and is in joint second place in the North, making it a breakthrough variety in Mr Kightley’s opinion.

“V316OL is a relatively tall variety, but it has the required 8 ratings for lodging and stem stiffness. It also has medium maturity and moderate resistance to disease. There are no obvious downsides.”

Others include V295OL, which is not quite as high yielding as V316OL but offers pod shatter resistance, as well as V280Ol and V275OL.

Premiums are between £20-25/t, he reveals. “It is a niche market at the moment, but it is growing. Now that yields are up at a competitive level, it’s bound to attract more interest.”

However, there are additional costs associated with the seed and quality testing of each load, he adds. “So remember to include those in your calculations. And minimising volunteers, to maintain quality and careful segregation in store and during transport, is absolutely vital.”

Winter Barley

The premium paid for malting barley is dictated by where you live and the market available to you, reveals Mrs Leaman.

For this reason, dual-purpose malting barley varieties, which could go for either brewing or distilling, are a good bet, she maintains.

“The brewing market is shrinking and the distilling market is growing,” she says. “So varieties such as Odyssey, which meet the requirements of both end uses, are a solution.”

The procession of excellent new spring barley varieties joining the Recommended List can be confusing, as they don’t even have provisional approval from the brewers when they gain recommendation, she points out.

“It’s not the same process as it is for milling wheat. So be more cautious about new varieties.”

At this early stage, she picks out RGT Planet as the highest yielding of the newcomers, and Sienna, Vault and Octavia for their dual-purpose potential.

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