First and second wheat gap closes

Efforts to boost the performance of second wheats are paying off, according to the latest study from ProCam Agronomy.

Harvest records from more than 1300 wheat crops drawn from the company’s national 4cast performance database show second wheats yielded an average of 8.51t/ha in 2006, compared with 8.9t/ha for first wheats.

That difference of just 0.4t/ha compares with a 1t/ha difference in 2001, maintaining the pattern seen since the beginning of the new millennium.

“Although crop performance has fluctuated from year to year, our six-year study shows a steady upward trend in average first wheat yields from about 8.5t/ha in 2001,” says ProCam technical agronomist, Nick Myers.

“Over the same period, though, average second wheat yields have increased at more than double the rate from under 7.5t/ha to more than 8.5t/ha.”

Mr Myers says the results are especially welcome as improved prices persuade growers to think more positively about second wheats for the coming season.

The arrival of the specialist take-all seed treatment Latitude (silthiofam) in 2001 helped he reckons it puts puts an extra 0.25-0.5t/ha on yields.

“Until five years ago the only defence against take-all was to delay drilling until mid-October. While this helped avoid the disease, we know the best time to sow wheat to maximise yields is September.”

But Mr Myers believes a change in attitude by growers is the main driver for improvement. “Growers have set out to cut the second wheat performance gap. They’ve started treating their second wheats as distinctly different crops.

“Choosing varieties specifically suited to the slot, for instance, as well as drilling earlier, taking steps to enhance autumn establishment and improving spring fertiliser, fungicide and PGR management.

“It’s this attitude change that’s behind the second wheat progress,” says Mr Myers. “We still have more variability in second wheats than we’d like and there’s no doubt that first wheats remain more profitable on average.”

But, at a standard £80/t wheat price to eliminate the effects of market fluctuations, ProCam analyses show gross margin trends paralleling the yield improvements.

Average first wheat margins have increased by about £29/ha since 2001, while second wheat margins are up by over £70/ha.

Yeld results play crucial role in Variety choice

Wheat growers consider a high second-wheat rating on the Recommended List as the most important factor when choosing which variety to plant in this slot, according to a study by RAGT Seeds.

More than 80% of the 300 growers quizzed rated this as one of the three most important requirements. More than half also wanted proven performance and eyespot resistance.

Study co-ordinator Chris Black says: “Growers are cleary seeing second wheat as a distinctly different crop from fisrt wheat as they look to increase cereal growing in response to the marked improvements in prices and lifting of set-aside constraints.”

Several varieties are sufficiently established on the Recommended List to offer broad-acres proof of performance, he adds. Five stand out with second wheat yield ratings of more than 10t/ha – RAGT’s Ambrosia and Gladiator, Nickerson’s Einstein and Istabraq and Saaten-Union’s Glasgow.

“The first three of these are further highlighted for their superior relative performance in the second wheat slot,” Mr Black maintains.