Wheat growers turn to quality rather than top yields

Growers are choosing wheat varieties this autumn that offer good grain marketability and agronomy – with Graham, Siskin and Costello seen as the early winners.

Many have picked varieties with qualities such as disease resistance and standing power and which can be grown at a lower cost, rather than opting for out-and-out yield.

Best sellers in commercial seed sales so far include Skyfall, Graham, Siskin, Crusoe and Costello, with the losers being older feed varieties Diego, Santiago and Evolution.

See also: Harvest 2017: The 5 top-yielding winter wheat varieties

David Leaper, seed technical manager at agronomy group Agrii, said varieties that can be late-drilled to help with blackgrass control – such as Skyfall and Siskin – are selling well, as is Costello with its good grain size.

“The move is towards those varieties with good agronomic performances such as good disease resistance, standing power and the ability to drill later,” he told Farmers Weekly.

Top spot

Milling variety Skyfall looks likely to hold on to its top spot despite mixed harvest results, and although Siskin has done well it may have been held back as its standing power is not as good as its rivals.

These two – along with the other big sellers Graham, Crusoe and Costello – all have good resistance scores of at least a 6 for wheat’s most damaging disease, septoria, and generally good standing power, while Costello has the highest specific weight on the AHDB Recommended List (all five are above 76kg/hl).

In the soft-milling wheat sector, new variety Bennington is doing well and taking some share off old favourite Leeds as it is higher yielding and matures slightly earlier.

Among the biscuit-making wheats, new varieties Barrel and Basset are making inroads into the market share held by Zulu, thanks to their higher yields and better disease resistance scores, such as for yellow rust.

New breadmaker

New milling variety Zyatt is selling well and could take 4-5% of the seed market, while older breadmaking variety Crusoe is set to remain a favourite breadmaker.

Richard Torr, sales and marketing manager at seed supplier Wynnstay, said its two winners were Graham and Costello, while new varieties such as Dunston and Shabras have been received well as growers look to replace Diego.

His company specialises in hard-milling feed wheats, selling across the centre of England from Shropshire to Yorkshire, and is the third-biggest seed seller in the UK.

Septoria resistance, early maturity, straw strength and grain quality all feature on growers’ varietal shopping lists, with many willing to sacrifice top yield for reliability and grain quality.

“Varieties that yield but have baggage never take a huge market share,” said Mr Torr, explaining that growers are in a “repositioning year” after moving away from Diego.

Slipped back

Diego had almost 30% of the group’s wheat seed sales last year, but it has slipped back to less than 10%. The company’s new market leader, Graham, has grabbed a 15% share.

Mr Torr said Diego looked “dirty and scrappy” in trial plots last season and many growers will have decided its time was up after it previously dominated the second wheat slot.

However, while the bulk of the early orders had moved to newer variety Graham, Mr Torr said there had been a larger amount of Costello purchased after the variety gave pleasing grain quality.

Chris Guest, seed manager at Gleadell, said two new varieties, Kerrin and Shabras, had been among the group’s top three best sellers, along with Graham, with Diego, Evolution and Revelation all declining.

He said Kerrin and Shabras were the two highest-yielding varieties on the Recommended List and there was always some demand for the very highest yielders. His group’s top sellers were Skyfall, Kerrin, Graham, Siskin and Shabras.

“Skyfall is still popular, while Siskin and Graham have enhanced their positions after a good season,” he said.