Despite a wet harvest, milling wheats came up trumps at our trial site near Corby. Gilly Johnson reports.
FEED wheat, move over. Northants grower Ray Dalton – former diehard feed wheat champion – has had a change of heart.
For the first time "since we grew Avalon back in the 1970s", Mr Dalton is going back into milling varieties. This year "added value" wheats are taking a large proportion – 40% – of the 442ha (1,092 acres) cereal area at Rockingham Castle Farms, near Corby.
Mr Daltons conversion is due to his first hand experience of the Milling Wheat Challenge. After persuasion by seed merchant Tim Hirst of BDR Agriculture, Mr Dalton drilled three new milling varieties as a look-see alongside the farms core feed wheat, Brigadier.
Also involved with the Challenge are three millers; Peter Knight, of Smiths Flour Mills, Nick Riley of Allied Mills and Peter Jones of Rank Hovis. They are monitoring the performance of the three new bread wheats Abbot, Malacca, and Caxton respectively.
Covering 11ha (27 acres), the trial site was big enough to allow field-scale plots for each wheat. The results are shown in the panel.
ONE variety – Malacca – convincingly outyielded the Brigadier, giving 10.85t/ha (4.4t/acre) as compared with 10.48t/ha (4.2t/acre).
"On yields alone, Malacca has certainly delivered the goods," says Mr Dalton. "It looked good throughout, with short, stiff straw, and stood well."
He suspects that some of the credit must go to the new strobilurin azoxystrobin (Amistar) which was part of the disease control programme. "It certainly kept the site greener." But had maturity been delayed as a result? "Possibly, but the site ripened off rapidly," he remembers. "It stayed green until the last minute, and then the next day, the crop had turned."
NONE of the milling varieties achieved a standard breadmaking specification of 11.5% protein, 76 kg/hl specific weight and 250 hagberg. But given the difficult season, they put in a good result, reckons Mr Dalton.
In the past his problem has been producing grain with high protein. So he was delighted to break this barrier for the first time. Whether it was the late liquid nitrogen (23kg N/ha at very late cheesy-ripe stage, GS 85) or a quirk of the season, proteins are high, over 12%, for all the milling wheats.
"Nationally proteins are up by about 0.2 to 0.3%", says Peter Knight, of Smiths Flour Mills. "But that isnt the full explanation for Rays success with proteins this season. Its that hes got the agronomy right."
Mr Knight is pleased that protein quality is generally "pretty good". It hasnt suffered from the season – which has surprised the millers.
However specific weights are down dramatically, in common with much of the 1997 harvest. None of the four varieties could meet a 72kg/hl specification; Caxton and Brigadier fare worst at 68kg/hl. Mr Dalton puts this down to the cold June.
It was a disappointment, he admits, because the wheats looked so well just before harvest. Such low specific weights are a problem to millers, explains Mr Knight, because they reduce flour extraction rate.
Hagberg falling number is another stumbling block. None of the wheats come anywhere near to the 220 to 250 standard required. This can be explained by the wet weather at combining, says Mr Dalton.
"We took the combine through a neighbours field of Hereward before ours, and the hagbergs were fine." Then the rain came and grain quality plummeted. By the time Mr Dalton was given another weather window, hagbergs had sunk to 150 and below.
"Such low hagbergs are hopeless as far as millers are concerned," says Mr Knight. "They would be useless for loaves suited to automatic slicing, because the crumb is too sticky."
WITH a nominal £20/t milling premium included in gross margin calculations, Malacca wins the race, with Caxton second, Abbot third, and Brigadier fourth. The figures are given in the panel.
But because the Milling Challenge samples failed to meet milling standards, its only reasonable to have a look at returns without premium support. Surprisingly, Malacca still leads the field at £900/ha (£364/acre) beating Brigadier by £30/ha (£12/acre) – because of its high yield performance.
"At this level of yield, Malacca pays its way even without premiums," says Mr Dalton. This year his wheats are split between feed wheats Brigadier, Reaper and Equinox, with some trial areas of Madrigal, Savannah and Falstaff, and milling wheats Malacca, Rialto, Charger and a trial area of Samoa.
Having done the Milling Wheat Challenge, he is more confident about hitting the protein target next harvest. "We are greatly encouraged. Then if we do make a premium on top, it goes straight onto our bottom line profits. If we had made the quality this year, the milling gross margins would have been way ahead of the feed wheats."
But will milling premiums – currently riding high at £25 to £30/t – be maintained for next harvest? The supply of milling wheats is set to rise – seed trade estimates are that the area down to Group 1 and 2 wheats has risen by 7% this year. Mr Knight is loathe to make predictions on prices, and reckons that premiums may not be the driving issue in future anyway.
"Remember, if the yields of these new varieties are maintained, growers will see good returns on the basis of output alone…"