Spring wheat could be a real breadwinner

Spring wheat could be set for a renaissance this season as growers look to trim production costs, meet new greening rules and seek out price premiums.

The weather has played a key role in the fortunes of this spring crop but this could be about to change, points out Niab Tag’s cereal specialist Clare Leaman.

“Ever since a drop in its area in the 1980s, spring wheat has been bumping along at around 5% of the total wheat plantings,” she says.

“In very wet, difficult years, it has gone up as high as 10%, but in better seasons it has been down as low as 2%,” she adds.

However, that situation is changing as political, rotational and economic forces all exert their influence at the farm level and prompt a rethink.

“In the east of the country, the need for blackgrass control is as much of a driver for including spring wheat in the rotation as is the three-crop rule,” Mrs Leaman explains.

Both are causing some fundamental changes to be considered, which is why there’s so much interest in spring wheat.

“Of course, given current grain prices, its lower growing costs are another attraction,” she adds.

Switching to spring barley tends to be the kneejerk reaction to having a spring crop in the rotation, she reports.

“It’s seen as a more ready market. But there are a number of growers who haven’t looked at spring wheat for a while and they will find that the crop is quite different today than when they last considered it,” she says.

New, higher yielding varieties have been introduced, both for the quality and the feed markets, which compete well with winter wheat when they are late autumn sown, she adds.

“There are wider opportunities with spring wheat now. Take another look and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised,” she adds.

Independent wheat breeder John Blackman, who has an on-going spring wheat development programme and is behind the top-selling spring wheat Mulika, believes there are both advantages and disadvantages with spring wheat.

“To do a fair comparison, it’s important to consider autumn-sown spring wheat as well as spring sown crops. By that, I mean crops sown after 5 October,” he says.

Advantages

As far as advantages go, there’s no doubt that the three-crop rule will change attitudes to spring cropping.

“For some, having spring wheat will mean that they are complying with the rule. So that’s a positive,” he says.

Savings on herbicides, and probably fungicides, is another bonus.

“Depending on when you sow, the savings can be considerable. The later the date, the more you can cut back,” he adds.

Spring wheat also allows growers to spread their planting and harvesting operations, points out Mr Blackman.

“There are peak workload advantages and there is the opportunity to make savings on fixed costs. Individual situations will determine just how much these are worth,” he says.

HGCA Recommended List for spring wheat 2015

Varieties  

Fungicide-treated yield

Protein 

 Hagberg

Specific weight (kg/hl)

GROUP 1

       

Mulika

99%

14.0%

306

76.9

Paragon

93%

13.9%

312

77.4

GROUP 2

       

Granary

104%  

14%  

222

77.6

Tybalt  

102%

13.1%

293 

75.4

Willow  

101%

13.2% 

247

77.8

Ashby  

99%  

14.0%

297

77.5

GROUP 4         

       

Kilburn  

106% 

13.6%

 229

75.7

Alderon

103%  

13.6%

305

75.9

Belvoir

101%

12.9%

245

76.2

NOTE – Yield control is from three varieties Mulika, Tybalt and Ashby

NOTE – No new spring wheat varieties were added to the 2015 Recommended List

Weather risks are also spread, especially at the busy drilling and harvest times.

“Extreme weather events are increasingly causing difficulties for growers. Having the flexibility of a five to six-month drilling window can be very helpful,” he says.

This drilling window is also where a difference can be made to weed control.

“It lets growers make the best use of stale seed-beds and deal with as much of the weed burden as possible before the crop is drilled,” he adds.

“It’s one of the most compelling reasons for growing spring wheat, especially where herbicide resistance in the weed population is present,” Mr Blackman remarks.

This extended time period also allows soil structure problems to be addressed or minimised.

“This is especially relevant for rotations with root crops, or where soils are very heavy. Good seed-beds are important for all crops, but spring crops have to be able to get up and away quickly,” he says.

A further advantage is that where the crop is spring sown, it has a lower nitrogen requirement than its winter counterpart, he adds.

Looking specifically at Mulika, which is a Group 1 milling wheat, Mr Blackman identifies two additional benefits that come with this quality spring wheat variety.

“There are premiums and buy-back contracts available. It’s easier to hit the specification with a spring wheat than it is with a winter wheat, so you can have more confidence in it,” he says.

“There’s also no risk of orange wheat blossom midge damage, because the variety has resistance to it,” Mr Blackman adds.

Disadvantages

There’s no denying that spring wheat has a lower yield potential if it is planted after mid-March, says Mr Blackman.

In addition, there is only a limited choice of agrochemicals that can be used on spring wheat, including some seed treatments, which can be frustrating for growers with specific agronomic challenges.

Harvest may be prolonged where spring wheat is being grown, and there’s a risk of a shorter grain fill period if very high temperatures occur as the crop is ripening.

“There are likely to be establishment issues in cloddy spring seed-beds, while a spring drought is a threat to all spring-sown crops,” he says.

Mr Blackman also highlights the increased risk of gout fly damage, which may lead to ergot in some seasons. “If it’s wet at flowering and ergot is sporulating, there is a risk,” he adds.

Gout fly is a localised pest which causes stunting of the tiller and an angled ear.

“If your plant stand is reasonable, the risk is reduced. A ragged and patchy crop is more likely to suffer from primary infection,” he adds.

While some growers question the competitiveness of spring wheat when it comes to blackgrass, the delayed drilling opportunity is the most important factor when it comes to getting good weed control, he stresses.

JULY
14

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