Varieties shape up for 2000

19 June 1999

Varieties shape up for 2000

NIABs Seeds Day is the showcase for the new varieties which are vying for a place on the 2000 Recommended Lists. Gilly Johnson checks out their form with Richard Fenwick.


NIABs Richard Fenwick cant remember a time when no new wheats made it onto the Recommended List. But could it happen this season?

The problem is that the current varieties which set the performance benchmark are now so good, that theyre a hard act to beat. Comparisons include Savannah as a high yielding feed, Hereward as a Group 1 milling variety, Rialto as a Group 2 milling variety, and Consort as a Group 3 soft biscuit type – but newer varieties which arrived last year are also upping the standard.

This years line-up includes a candidate in each category. Most eye-catching, because its the first F1 hybrid to have reached the final hurdle in Recommended List trials, is Cockpit, bred in France by Hybritech and marketed by Nickerson UK.

"Although weve seen hybrids about 10 years ago, the hybridisation system required the use of some difficult chemicals," says Mr Fenwick. "That has all changed, and Cockpit is bred using a different, safer process."

For growers, the obvious downside with hybrids is that seed is going to cost more, because of the complex production process, and that you cant save your own seed. So the return needs to outweigh such disadvantages.

It wouldnt make commercial sense for the breeder to put too high a price tag on the seed, but because seed rate is lower (about 70% of the conventional seed rate, thanks to that hybrid vigour and high tillering) theres some room to manoeuvre before the breeders profit margins are squeezed.

Most important is that Cockpit does promise the grower something extra in return. Surprisingly, its not yield – which though good, isnt above Savannah level – as much as grain quality. Millers are keen, and initial judgement of a Group 2 type classification could be an understatement. This would change the yardstick by which the variety was judged; instead of having to beat Rialto, it would be compared against Hereward or one of the newer milling wheats with markedly lower yields.

"Theres a possibility that Cockpit could achieve Group 1 status, which would certainly boost its chances. Well know more after this harvest when the millers have the chance to assess more grain."

For a tall variety, straw is surprisingly stiff, says Mr Fenwick (NIAB trials with hybrid varieties are sown at a lower seed rate). Grain characters are acceptable, particularly with careful management, though protein and specific weights are not quite as good as Hereward.

But Cockpit does have an Achilles heel: disease resistance. This wheat is very susceptible to yellow rust, and its also weak against mildew. Its unfortunate for the variety that it made a debut in trials just at a time when Brigadiers yellow rust resistance collapsed, and inoculum became widespread.

Another hybrid wheat – Mercury – is in the variety pipeline, also from Hybritech. "But as with Cockpit, its weak against yellow rust. And we are not seeing any huge leap in yield potential."

Two Group 2 type wheats, bred by CPB Twyford, are up against the Rialto standard: Genghis and Aardvark, which was deferred from last year. "Its a tough sector, because the millers have plenty to choose from within both Group 1 and 2 wheats with Shamrock, Malacca, Rialto, Charger and so on. They probably wont be keen on buying at the lower end of the Group 2 category."

Aardvark was deferred for more information on breadmaking quality, and for more information on reaction with growth regulator. "Without pgrs, it is rated a 7 for straw stiffness. But with growth regulator, Aardvark seems to benefit more than any other variety and becomes exceptionally stiff."

It also offers outstanding disease resistance, spoilt only by a 6 for Septoria tritici, which is the major threat to UK wheat. Were it not for that, could Aardvark be a no-spray wheat? The problem, says Mr Fenwick, is that other varieties have higher untreated yield. "Its a bit of a mystery, but often varieties with good disease resistance dont always show the best untreated yield. In general, good disease resistance isnt enough – successful new varieties have to show something else. And the return from fungicides is usually cost-effective, even when a variety has good resistance."

Aardvarks grain characters are good, bar a low score for hagberg. By comparison, Genghis has an even lower rating for hagberg, which would count against it as a Group 2 contender.

Treated yield is up just one point off Savannah level, and surprisingly untreated yield is way out in front – even though on paper, Genghis doesnt score as well as Aardvark on resistance. This goes to prove Mr Fenwicks point.

Genghis is stiff, moderately short and early, with no major disease weaknesses.

Soft endosperm biscuit variety Eclipse from New Farm Crops is up against Riband, Consort and Claire on Group 3 quality. But yield is not up to the Riband standard – which is a serious disadvantage. Eclipse does however show high untreated yield – could this be a reflection of an exceptionally high eyespot resistance rating of 9? Resistance against other diseases is reasonably good.

Grain characters show very high hagberg, and the low P/L figure (used as an export standard) might prove attractive to export milling customers. Eclipse is reasonably short and stiff. A Drake cross, Eclipse has a similar prostrate growth habit and is slow to develop – so this might make a good variety for early drilling.

In the barn-filling, hard endosperm feed wheat section, Napier from PBI Cambridge is putting in a strong performance where it counts – yield. This Hussar/Lynx cross is rated one point ahead of Savannah, which currently heads the yield league ranking on the Recommended List.

Short, and early maturing, Napier looks as though it would fit in a high input/high output production system. Disease resistance isnt that brilliant, and growth regulator would help boost moderately good standing power. Grain characters are acceptable.

Napier has an unusual prostrate growth habit early on, with tremendous tillering – useful for those later drilling slots. It might also be the variety for growers keen to cut seed rates. It races through later crop development stages, so pgr timings would need care.


GROWERS with a late autumn slot to fill will be interested in new spring wheat candidate Morph from Nickerson UK. Yield performance looks better than Chablis in this late sown position.

Quality is Group 2, rather than Group 1 milling potential. Morph is short and stiffer than the other spring wheats, with Septoria tritici as the only disease weakness. Specific weight is a touch low, so would need more care with management to meet a milling spec.


A BREAKTHROUGH with yield potential is promised by the new winter barley candidates. What a pity that interest in the crop has waned, says Mr Fenwick.

Can the new varieties tempt growers back into winter barley? Highest yield comes from a new French-bred six-row, Siberia, from Dalgety Arable. Its an out-and-out feed variety with no malting potential.

As ever with a six-row, specific weights are a tad low – worse than Muscat – but for on-farm feeding, thats not a problem. Early maturity will attract Manitou followers in the north.

Unusually for a six-row, standing power is excellent, and straw is medium length. Siberia has resistance to barley yellow mosaic virus but net blotch and brown rust would need watching. Its also potentially very susceptible to yellow rust, though this is not a problem in barley – yet.

Quality malting barley entrant is Vanessa, bred in Germany by Breun and sold by Banks Agriculture, a follow-on variety to Angora. Its like Regina, but with an edge on yield, slightly earlier maturity – so could travel further north, and better disease resistance bar brown rust. Mildew resistance, rated 8, looks particularly useful.

Not as short as Regina, but still as stiff, bold grained Vanessa has similar malting quality – probably one for lager type beers rather than the traditional ales. But it does share a potential weakness with Regina in its susceptibility to yellow rust.

NIAB tests show Vanessa to be unusual in that it is resistant to barley mild mosaic virus, but susceptible to barley yellow mosaic virus. "However, these viruses tend to occur together," points out Mr Fenwick.

Old favourite Puffin may have died a death, but in breeding terms its making a comeback – both French-bred Antonia from Advanta Seeds UK and Artist from CBP Twyford have Puffin in their ancestry. Without quality malting potential, theyll have to be judged against high yielding feed barleys. Artist does have low grade malting potential – but the competition from Regina and others is great.

On yield, they are delivering the goods. Both these barleys are ahead of Regina, with Artist taking the lead. With very stiff but also long straw, Artist is a touch late for northern tastes, similar to Regina. It has big, bold grains and good net blotch resistance, and no disease weaknesses. And if yellow rust does make an appearance in barley, this variety is resistant.

Antonia is a weaker strawed, smaller grained type, with excellent disease resistance, including virus – though susceptible to yellow rust. Untreated yield is high.

"There are some interesting barleys coming forward – but the winter barley Recommended List is a long one," says Mr Fenwick. "New barleys face a hard battle for a share in a shrinking market."


OPTIC in the south and Chariot in the north are the benchmark varieties with spring barley, although Optic is creeping further north, says Mr Fenwick.

They are challenged by five higher yielding candidates. But only three look to have the top malting quality demanded by the leading spring barley buyers: Berwick from PBI Cambridge; Chime from Nickerson UK and Tavern from New Farm Crops.

Coming in with the top yield of these three is Tavern. Its a very short and very stiff strawed variety, with adequate disease resistance, and similar maturity to Optic. Untreated yield is high – is this courtesy of good barley yellow dwarf resistance? Its only weakness is mildew; the other contenders all have excellent resistance but Tavern is rated 6.

Just one point behind on yield, Chime is a touch earlier, with similar maturity to Chariot. Also very stiff strawed but just a little taller than Tavern, this small grained barley has useful disease resistance (including a 9 against mildew) but it is susceptible to rhynchosporium.

Another Chariot type on maturity, Berwick is a point behind again on yield. It has large grains and is a longer, weaker strawed barley. Its good against mildew but rhynchosporium resistance is only moderate.

That leaves Chaser and Saloon, both from New Farm Crops, which have malting quality rated slightly lower at 8. On yield, Saloon wins out, both treated and untreated. Its very short and stiff, and with similar maturity to Optic, and no disease weaknesses, including yellow rust. Specific weight is low.

Chaser is earlier maturing, but with the same stiff and short straw. It has excellent disease resistance bar a potential susceptibility to yellow rust.


THREE candidates join the line-up. Theres a new naked oat variety Grafton, a WPBS Aberystwyth-bred variety from Semundo, which looks easier to manage than the current weaker, tall strawed naked oats. Its very stiff, short and early, as well as being a point ahead on yield. Disease resistance is poor.

Birnam from PBI Cambridge gives high yields but straw is rather weak. Its an early maturing oat. Millennium, also Aberystwyth-bred from Semundo, has very short, stiff straw, with excellent kernel content which is what the processors want.


TWO stiff strawed and early varieties join the fray. German-bred Firth from CPB Twyford is short, stiff and early, with high yields, good disease resistance and good kernel content – a strong contender for recommendation, says Mr Fenwick. The other variety is Kite, Aberystwyth-bred from Semundo. Slightly taller but also stiff and early, Kite is 2 points behind on yield and slightly weaker against crown rust.

Date you cant miss

IF youve an interest in new varieties, then the NIAB Varieties and Seeds Day will be a definite annual fixture in your diary.

This year the date is Tuesday 29 June 1999, and the venue, as ever, is NIABs headquarters on the Huntingdon Road, Cambridge.

The plots are open to visitors from 9am to 5pm. NIAB members are free – but bring your membership card. Other visitors must pay a £15 entrance fee.


Star of the show of course is the full range of new varieties of cereals, oilseeds, pulses and potatoes. With treated and untreated plots together, theres a warts-and-all view of the newcomers. NIAB specialists will be manning the plots, ready to answer queries on variety performance. And the plant pathology section could make you re-think the value of disease resistance.

Under cover:

Commercial exhibits in the main marquee include the major seed companies and merchants, the HGCA and the PGRO. Through the morning, seminars on topical issues will be running from 9.45 to 10.45am, and 11.15am to 12.15pm. Keynote speaker is Lord Haskins of Northern Foods, who will be discussing the impact of food manufacturing on your markets at 3pm in the luncheon marquee.

Whats new:

Watch out for the Breeders Variety Challenge, where NIAB has allowed the plant breeders a free rein with plots of some of their own varieties.

The breeders will be on hand to explain how they are managing their own wheats, and why. Bravely – or is it rashly – theyre putting their expertise on the line, because the gross margin performance of each plot will be compared. Could you learn any lessons from these variety experts?


Buffet from 12am-2pm by ticket only; ring Shelley Davison at NIAB on 01223 342344 to ensure a place. A snack bar will be open all day; the bar is open from 12am-5pm.

Susceptible Brigadier may have fallen out of favour, but theres still more than enough yellow rust inoculum about this season. "The weather hasnt helped – the mild winters have allowed yellow rust to get off to an early start," says NIABs disease guru, Dr Rosemary Bayles. Although few varieties are as vulnerable as Brigadier, many of the newer wheats succumb to a degree, so growers cant afford to ignore this disease. "I think yellow rust will be with us for a few years now." The good news is that no new races have been spotted this season. "The odd report of yellow rust on resistant varieties such as Buster turned out to be unfounded and could be explained by Brigadier volunteers, for example." However, Dr Bayles has seen more samples of the Equinox/Madrigal YR6/9/17 race, which will also infect Savannah and Rialto. There are suggestions that Riband is showing more disease this year than last: "again, its because infection came in early and was able to build up a head of steam. Riband does have adult plant resistance which gives a degree of protection later in the season." On barley, yellow rust is a time bomb, waiting to explode, warns Dr Bayles.

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