Wheat varieties to drill in autumn 2021

Low-risk, resilient wheat varieties are at the top of most wish lists for this autumn, as growers get to grips with the implications of climate change, vanishing support payments and the need to reduce input costs.

The much-heralded arrival of Europe’s first barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV)-resistant wheat, Wolverine, indicates that genetic solutions to agronomic challenges are coming through, with many more expected in the next few years, some of which will also offer orange wheat blossom midge resistance.

See also: How northern farmers could benefit from new soft winter wheat

However, the increasingly dynamic and unpredictable yellow rust situation continues to create difficulties in some existing, widely grown varieties, with a very mixed picture emerging regionally.

“The yellow rust race story is important, but we still don’t fully understand it,” sums up Niab cereal variety specialist Clare Leaman. “Local knowledge is vital with such a fluid situation.”

She reminds growers that the yellow rust ratings given to individual varieties on the Recommended List are an average, taken from trials across different seasons and sites, but with a weighting applied to the most recent results. “Definitely use the ratings as a guide to choosing your varieties, but then be prepared to farm what you see in front of you.”

Some eight new varieties have joined the latest AHDB Recommended List for 2021-22, with the Group 3 biscuit market sector benefiting the most – boosting its ranks by a total of five. In addition, there is one new soft Group 4 with distilling potential and two new hard Groups 4 feed wheats.

Group 1

Another year has passed without any new Group 1 bread-making wheats making the grade, or a change to the established order.

“Getting tired” is how Mrs Leaman describes the four existing Group 1s, the most recent of which, Zyatt, was recommended in 2017.

“There’s no doubt that they are taking on more disease, especially yellow rust. The disease is having more of an effect in this group than we would like to see.”

Both Skyfall and Zyatt have been affected badly. While Zyatt has a 5 rating and Skyfall’s score is 3, growers need to be just as vigilant with both.

The exception is Crusoe, which has maintained its yellow rust rating of 9, but has a known brown rust weakness with a rating of 3. While that hasn’t changed for a few years, it is the only issue with an otherwise reliable performer. 

“It will be interesting to see if there’s a fall in the Group 1 area after this year,” says Mrs Leaman.

John Miles, seed technical manager at Agrii, agrees that Skyfall and Zyatt are now high-
input types. “The question we are being asked by growers is how to lower risk in the Group 1 sector? And the answer seems to be Crusoe.”

Crusoe has none of the yellow rust issues that have plagued its counterparts, and its septoria rating of 6.3 is good too, he says.

“Given the carbon footprint focus that the supply chain increasingly has, Crusoe is attractive. It gives the desired protein content for a known level of nitrogen input.”

Group 2

Without any newcomers to challenge the status quo, the Group 2 segment is all about Extase, which is already one of the three top-selling varieties, says Mrs Leaman.

“Certainly, Extase seems to be the main talking point, but it’s worth noting that Siskin hasn’t done anything wrong,” she says.

Whether the strength of these two from KWS will take some market share from the older Group 1 varieties remains to be seen.

Much will depend on what the millers do about Extase, believes Mr Miles, who points out that the variety has some characteristics that make it more attractive in 2021 than it was in 2020.

“We’re looking at a later harvest this year and the early maturing types have an advantage in such a year. Extase scores a -1 for ripening. It’s also worth noting that this is the first year without chlorothalonil. If growers are noticing the void in disease levels in the field, a variety with such good septoria resistance looks increasingly attractive.”

Group 3

The biscuit-making sector is where all the action is this year, with five new varieties vying for attention, all of which have orange wheat blossom midge resistance.

None of them are bad choices, says Mrs Leaman, who thinks growers will welcome the new cohort and the advantages they bring. “Both Barrel and Firefly have question marks over them now, so having newcomers is a good thing. Picking between them is a close-run thing.”

Most growers will be looking for the right combination of risk and resilience, she notes, with market options also having an influence on their uptake.

The highest-yielding variety is Limagrain’s Prince on 103%, which combines this yield with good disease-resistance scores, including an 8 for yellow rust and a 7.1 for septoria.

Slightly later maturing at +2 for ripening, it also has a specific weight of 74.8 kg/hl that some will consider a bit low. “It is acceptable for distilling, but not suitable for export.”

Next comes Illuminate, also from Limagrain, on a yield of 102%. With 7s for yellow rust and septoria, it does have export potential and has been talked about as a good variety for the North, due to its early drilling suitability.

Another new Limagrain variety, Quasar, is reported to have no seed available.

Merit, from Elsoms, is recommended for the East, where it has a yield of 103%. With good disease-resistance figures and a wide range of marketing options, including export, the only weakness seems to be a 3 for mildew.

“Merit is a strong variety that finds itself in tough company, given the influx of new ones,” says Mrs Leaman. “It definitely deserves a closer look.”

The final Group 3 newcomer is Astronomer. Another Limagrain variety, it has the most trade support and, as such, will have the greatest seed supply. With a yield of 101% – the same as Firefly – it has the top septoria score of the group at 7.4.

“Astronomer does seem to be a good package, but it doesn’t suit the export market,” she continues. “That will put some people off.”

Mr Miles agrees that Astronomer is the most resilient variety of the lot, scoring highly in Agrii’s system, but also notes that Merit has good seed trade support. “There will be enough seed of Merit available,” he says. “This is the right year to be trying a couple of these new varieties.”

Group 4 Soft

A very high alcohol yield puts the new soft Group 4 choice Swallow ahead of other distilling varieties, reflecting its top rating for that market sector, says Mrs Leaman.

“It’s a good choice for the North,” she says. “It’s not very often that the distillers make a noise about varieties, so it’s interesting to see them getting behind Swallow.”

Joining the list with a specific recommendation for the North, where it has a yield of 102%, Swallow is also short and stiff, with a septoria score of 5.7. Bred by John Blackman, it is being marketed by Senova. “Its septoria rating is higher than that of Skyscraper, which is a very popular soft wheat,” she notes. “And like Skyscraper, it has a 0 for ripening.”

Skyscraper will maintain its popularity, for its combination of very high yields and early maturity, as well as its good track record.

The other soft Group 4 with a good following is Saki, which is a later-maturing type on +3. With a higher septoria score of 6.5, it isn’t suitable for distilling.

Saki is one of the highest performing in Agrii’s variety sustainability rating, says Mr Miles, having performed consistently over the years and across regions.

“It meets grain quality and disease-resistance targets, offers good second wheat performance and is competitive against blackgrass. As such, it has the factors farmers look for.”

Group 4 Hard

Two new hard feed wheats line up with some well-established varieties, giving them plenty of work to do.

Cranium from KWS comes onto the Recommended List with a yield of 104% and very stiff straw, along with an 8 for yellow rust, 5 for brown rust and 6 for septoria. Its specific weight of 75.4kg/hl is lower than others, but a yield of 108% in late-drilled trials makes it interesting for the post-root crops slot.

“Cranium does have things to offer, whenever it is drilled,” says Mrs Leaman.

The other newcomer is BYDV-resistant Wolverine from RAGT, which has the Bdv2 gene. An exciting concept, it indicates what can be achieved by genetics and sets the direction of travel, she adds. 

“For high-risk situations, Wolverine will be very useful. It does need looking after because its disease resistance leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s a very welcome addition.”

Those disease scores include a 5 for yellow rust and a 5.3 for septoria, along with a +2 for maturity.

Mr Miles also sees the value of the BYDV trait in Wolverine and recognises it as a breakthrough, but has some concerns about the £33/ha price of the seed. “It seems expensive against a cost of about £15/ha for spraying.”

Other popular hard feed wheats include Gleam, Graham and Costello. Of those, Mrs Leaman reminds Gleam growers to be aware of yellow rust, as the Syngenta variety is suffering from inconsistent infections. “The rest of Gleam’s merits still stack up, so it is likely to have another good year.”

Graham continues to have support based on good on-farm performance, early maturity and a septoria score of 6.8. Costello also has its fans, she says, for its ease of management and very high specific weight.

“Costello is a great example of a farmer- friendly variety that is as safe as houses,” says Mr Miles. “It won’t match the highest yielders, but it’s a low-risk choice.”


A trio of hard feed wheats, all of which are on 105% for yield, are creating the most interest among the winter wheat candidate varieties.

Champion, Farrier and Dawsum are setting the pace, although all still need to get through this year’s harvest with good results to remain in contention.

Champion from DSV has the best disease resistance, but the lowest specific weight, while Limagrain’s Farrier and KWS’s Dawsum have lower septoria scores of 5 and 6, respectively, but better grain quality.

Dawsum, at this stage, will only be the second variety to have a specific weight over 80kg/hl.

There are also three potential Group 2s – Palladium, Flintoff and Mayflower – none of which appear higher yielding than Extase at this stage, but could add choice.

Elsom’s Mayflower scores an 8 for septoria and Palladium has a 7, while Flintoff brings orange wheat blossom midge resistance.

There are also three Group 3 biscuit wheats, but all have either a low septoria score or late maturity, making their future less certain.

In the soft Group 4 category, Bairstow and Stokes from RAGT bring good septoria scores and different marketing options.

On farm

There isn’t much appetite for wholesale variety change this year, reports Ceres Rural partner and independent agronomist Jock Willmott.

He notes that yield and grain quality advancements are minimal, so new variety selection is about improvements in marketability and better traits for the upcoming drilling slot – preferably with disease resilience.

Because of practical and economic reasons, most growers will stick with the market sector they are comfortable growing for, he predicts. “I don’t see a big shift in milling wheat growers switching to feed varieties – just a few tweaks.”

The increased susceptibility of Zyatt and Skyfall to yellow rust is wearing a bit thin, so Crusoe could be favoured for first wheat situations.

“The former two will be grown as second wheats and they do still hold their own against Group 2 and 4 contenders. Of course, Extase will be very popular as a crossover variety.”

What started as a benign septoria season has escalated, he warns. “In commercial situations, varietal resistance is not always as robust as the data suggests. It is only a guide, and there is more to learn about septoria from this season.”

Growers tend to favour wheats that have already been reliable on their farms and there are some varieties that are a relief to have in the farm’s portfolio for their rock-solid performance, regardless of the season, he says. “They include older choices such as Crusoe, Siskin and Costello.”

As the transition period continues, varieties with better disease resistance will become more prominent in rotations as risk mitigation and an opportunity to save costs.

Mr Willmott sees the new barley yellow dwarf virus-resistant feed wheat Wolverine as an example – it is a useful management tool for early drilling and where growers were comfortable using Deter (clothianidin), suggesting that farmer engagement with it will depend on location and drilling strategy.

“It’s a good principle and shows the direction of plant breeding. It bodes well for the future in minimising pesticide use.”

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