Trial will test claims for genetic improvements
AN on-farm test of the value of genetic improvements to wheat over the past 30 years is planned by a Scottish farmer.
World record yield holder Gordon Rennies millennium project aims to see whether breeders claims for about 2% compound annual growth in output are fully justified. To do so he intends sowing, in 1999, an 8ha (20-acre) uniform field split equally between one-time benchmark variety Cappelle and one of the latest high-fliers, probably the 1997 recommended list candidate Madrigal.
Carefully managed inputs, especially growth regulators and fungicides, will be applied to ensure each variety performs to its potential. "We shall use every technology available to keep them clean and standing."
Strobilurin fungicides, which should be available by then, should take care of mildew, which is becoming increasingly hard to control with existing products, he says.
"Hopefully, the only difference then left will be due to genetics. It should be very interesting to see how much plant breeders have really achieved in three decades."
A small quantity (2kg) of Cappelle seed, supplied by Elsoms Seeds, is being multiplied in buffer areas surrounding an SAC trial site. "I need enough to sow about 10 acres in autumn 1999," explains Mr Rennie.
Comparing the rewards from wheat growing when Cappelle was king to those of today is quite salutary, he adds. "In 1971 my father grew 3t/acre of Cappelle and bought his first Range Rover. It cost £1800, which represented 47t of grain or about 16 acres of wheat."
Now the latest Range Rover, costing about £30,000, would need the output from three-and-a-half times that area to pay for it, even at the 13.16t/ha (5.3t/acre) output which won him top award in the 1996 farmers weekly/PBI Cambridge Wheat Challenge. *
• Ancient & modern wheat comparison.
• To test breeders genetic claims.
• Will use best available technology.
• Cappelle seed under multiplication.
• Highlighting economic rewards.
• In 1971 16 acres of Cappelle winter wheat yielding 3t/acre produced 47t of grain – enough to pay for an £1800 Range Rover.
• Now it would take 57 acres of 5.3t/acre crop to buy a £30,000 Range Rover.
• 16 acres would buy a standard Ford Fiesta today.
Just how much have plant breeders achieved in 30 years? Gordon Rennie plans to find out.