By Andrew Blake
MANY winter wheat growers in England and Wales are in a dilemma over which varieties to sow this autumn, according to Richard Fenwick, cereals specialist at NIAB.
Yellow rust, lodging and the big move to NABIM Group 1 and 2 varieties last autumn all mean making the right choice is as tricky as ever. But sticking to varieties on the UK recommended list provides the best chance of getting it right, he maintains.
The 8% swing to better quality types was a good move nationally as it should reduce millers needs to import breadmaking supplies, says Mr Fenwick. But there are limits to how far that can go before premiums needed to offset lower yields fall so far that growing them is no longer worthwhile, and not everybody can grow breadmaking types.
"Animal feed is still the largest wheat market," he adds. Varieties to fill that slot need to be high yielding, have good specific weight and be economical to grow.
With Brigadiers popularity waning fast because of growers problems controlling yellow rust, there is a large gap waiting to be filled. Mr Fenwick predicts Brigadiers share of the UK area will be down from 9% this season to 4% next. "That may not seem much but it is still a big area."
Many of the alternatives have similar yield potential but are susceptible to the same YR17 yellow rust race which affects Brigadier. But provisionally recommended Equinox and Madrigal, both stiff-strawed, high yielding and susceptible only to a less common YR6,17 race appear suitable options.
So does provisionally-recommended Savannah from Brigadier breeder Advanta, stresses Mr Fenwick. "With the highest yield potential on the list it has obvious claims, though we are finding a lot of resistance to it because it is also susceptible to the Brigadier race." Only in the north-west has it not topped the yield ratings, and then it was only two points adrift of the best.
What tends to be forgotten, he says, is that while Brigadier is extremely rust prone and rates only 1 against the disease, Savannah currently merits a 5. In other words it is only moderately susceptible. "There is a tremendous difference between 1 and 5."
With Savannah relatively weak against Septoria tritici, fungicide programmes needed to control that disease will also control the rust, he suggests. "It is not a huge risk. Seed supplies will be limited this autumn but it should be worth giving it a go."
As always, widespread growing of varieties with similar weaknesses can encourage disease, he acknowledges. But at this stage there are no signs that Savannahs resistance will change significantly.
Mr Fenwick dismisses a claim that Marshall, which in National List trials marginally outyielded stablemate Savannah, was forgotten when determining recommended list trials. Very susceptible to yellow rust it scored only two. This is below the acceptance standard unless a variety has other outstanding characters which merit its inclusion in the specially recommended category, he explains.
Equinox, from CPB Twyford, has Brigadier-type yield and has high soluble sugar levels at flowering. "It is thought this may be linked with the ability to cope with late drought." It is also the stiffest and shortest listed variety, but poor grain set occurred in some northern trials last year, he notes.
PBI Cambridges soft endo-sperm Madrigal, which marginally outyields Equinox, was originally aimed at the north, being a potential replacement for Riband in the distilling industry. But its combination of high specific weight, yield potential and standing power will make it a popular choice in England and Wales this autumn, Mr Fenwick predicts.
Among the fully recommended options New Farm Crops Reaper is relatively weak against yellow rust, though not so poor as Brigadier. With good resistance to Septoria tritici it yields well untreated, but it has quite weak straw and needs a growth regulator on fertile land, he advises.
Hussar, another from Advanta, has not matched Brigadier in popularity, perhaps because of its moderate straw strength, he suggests. But it is less susceptible to yellow rust and can give high yields. At 79kg/hl it has the best specific weight of all listed feed types.
Buster, Nickersons short, stiff strawed feed type, resists all yellow rust races, but it is very susceptible to brown rust which untreated can knock yields just as hard, warns Mr Fenwick. "It is useful in areas of high fertility, and although its yield is a little down on other feed varieties, small contract premiums for pig and poultry rations may be available to offset that."
Riband and Consort remain the main choices for soft, biscuit making markets. Provisionally recommended Harrier, another soft endosperm type, outyields both but lacks the characters to interest millers and should be seen purely as a feed type, says Mr Fenwick. Seed supplies are likely to limited.
Hereward and Spark continue as the only fully recommended Group 1 varieties likely to get full breadmaking premium. Up to last year provisionally-recommended Abbot slightly edged Hereward on yield, albeit with marginally poorer quality. But last season yields disappointed and this year it is showing rather more lodging than expected, he notes. "It is important to keep an eye on it to see if it lives up to its promise."
Although only just entering recommended list trials CPB Twyfords Malacca could prove a useful variety and seed should be available, says Mr Fenwick. "It has caught the eye of the millers." It is already in Group 1, though not yet fully proven commercially. Its yield is slightly better than Hereward and it is early with stiff straw. "It also appears to have adult plant resistance to YR6,17."
Of the Group 2 varieties Rialto, with a yield not far off the best feeds, is increasingly popular. But with longish straw it seems to have lodged rather more than previously this season, he notes.
Soissons earliness is particularly useful in supplying the early premium breadmaking market, though Group 1 premiums cannot be expected.
Though short and early, provisionally recommended Charger is also prone to lodging, and should not be sown before mid October, he suggests. It is also susceptible to fusarium ear blight and sprouting.
Beaufort, Caxton and Cadenza, along with Brigadier, are all becoming outclassed.
• Yellow rust, lodging risk and quality demands key to choice.
• Rising Group 1/2 production could hit premiums.
• Brigadier down, but still significant.
• Savannah top yielder, but rust risks.