All out for
FORGET Agenda 2000. Forget the ambiguities of a confused market. Focus on the one factor that you can influence – yield.
This is the message from Cambridge-based plant breeders CPB Twyford. "Using best practice, some growers could consistently achieve 12t/ha for a first wheat and 10t/ha for barley," reckons technical director John Blackman.
The secret, he believes, lies in getting the choice of variety matched to the drilling date. "Farmers have failed miserably to do this in the past, because they have received the wrong advice."
CPB trials show that varieties perform differently according to when they were drilled. The plots were drilled on six different dates:
• 1 September
• 15 September
• 10 October
• 20 October,
• 10 November
• 16 February.
On some dates, like 20 October, the soil conditions at the time of drilling were less than ideal, which had quite an impact on how the crop emerged. Nevertheless, in general, early drilling does produce a stronger, thicker crop and this can be plainly be seen by June.
There is a noticeable difference between varieties, however. Some varieties, like Malacca, Hereward and CPBs newcomer Genghis, thrive when drilled in early September. Others, like Rialto, became too lush too early and will probably lodge, or, like Savannah, were crippled with disease. In the October-drilled plots, Equinox and Aardvark appeared to be faring well, along with Riband and Rialto.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable findings was that some spring wheats performed much better than winter wheats when drilled in late autumn. "This is the sort of information that could really help sugar beet growers make the most from their late-sown cereals," says Mr Blackman.
Despite the fact that winter cereals may still be drilled in February, Mr Blackman thinks this should be avoided at all cost. "The plots look pretty appalling, really. If drilling has to be so late, use a spring variety- they emerge much faster."
Drilling date is not the only management decision CPB have looked at when trying to maximise yield. They have also focused on varietal choice throughout the rotation. They believe, like many others, that oilseed rape will remain the biggest break in rotations for agronomic reasons. But follow with an early-drilled, yield-busting variety. Their choice is Malacca for a quality crop or Genghis for yield alone.
Follow with a second wheat – its disease resistance requirements are totally different from a first wheat, and choice of variety should reflect this. Mr Blackman says a second wheat should have good all-round disease resistance, with at least a NIAB rating of 7 for resistance to eyespot, mildew and rusts. For varieties worthy of such esteemed ratings CPB have coined the phrase Super Sevens and Mr Blackman is quick to promote Aardvark as a champion among champions in this slot.
Barley comes next in the rotation with an ambitious target yield of 10t/ha. Mr Blackman banishes the myth that barley performs better on lighter soils: "Barley does not store as much in the way of sugar reserves as wheat, so is hopeless on light land in a dry year. Grow barley on your heavy land and wheat on the lighter soils."
Other tips for a high-yielding barley? Drill early, make sure it remains standing, keep on top of disease, especially net blotch, and give it plenty of nitrogen. Again, Mr Blackman pointed out that variety choice had much to do with a successful crop and pushed CPBs Heligan and Vertige as prime performers. Heligan can be sown early and is very stiff-strawed, whereas Vertige should be sown later (after mid-September) and has an impressive resistance to net blotch.
Mr Blackman challenges the reasoning behind putting nitrogen on cereals before April for first wheats and would like to introduce an N-Ban. "This practice encourages frothy, lush crops too early on. Go on in April and May for yield potential."
He also believes that growers are using far too much seed. CPBs earliest plots, drilled on 1 September, were planted at 200 seeds/sq m, which works out at about 85-90kg/ha (78lbs/acre). Seed rates were increased the later the trials were drilled: the rate on 10 October was 250 seeds/sq m (110kg/ha) which was raised to 350 seeds/sq m (158kg/ha) for the plot drilled on 10 November.
"The right seed rate can save a lot of money on other costs, like fungicides," maintains Mr Blackman .
He is equally dismissive of seed treatments: "Some can kill seed, delay emergence and theyre expensive. Avoid them if possible."
Gross margin results from using CPB Twyfords regime for max yield are impressive (see table) alongside figures from John Nixs Farm Management Pocketbook. Mary Munley, CPB marketing manager, believes the Nix figures do not reflect the sort of yields CPB varieties can achieve.
Her figures are based on a typical arable farm of 220ha, with 120ha of winter wheat, 40ha winter barley, 40ha of oilseed rape and 20ha of set-aside.
First wheat is Malacca, drilled early. "This is the variety likely to have the highest yield and quality," Ms Munley explains. Second wheat is Aardvark, because of its good performance at later drilling dates and disease resistance.
Mr Blackman is confident that fungicide costs could be cut by a staggering 75% using this variety. The extra margin from maximising yield output alone came to an average of £40/ha, or £8,800 over the whole farm. This was on top of any savings in fungicide and seed costs, Ms Munley points out.
Match varieties to drilling date and rotation to maximise yield potential of your wheat, advises Tom Allen-Stevens.
Hybrid 1st 2nd Barley Set-
rape wheat wheat aside
Yield (t/ha) 5 12 10 10 –
Price/t 120 70 70 68 –
Area aid 358 251 251 251 251
Gross output (£) 958 1,091 916 931 251
Seed 55 32 32 29 –
Fertiliser 165 115 129 115 –
Fungicide 50 126 37 77 –
Other Sprays 64 60 60 53 –
Swathing 35 – – – –
Total variable costs (£) 369 333 258 274 –
Gross margin 589 758 658 657 251
Average gross margin £635.55
Conventional 1st 2nd Barley Set- rape wheat wheat aside
Yield (t/ha) 4 9 9 8 –
Price/t 120 70 70 68 –
Area aid 358 251 251 251 251
Gross output (£) 868 899 881 768 251
Total variable costs (£) 230 230 250 205 –
Gross margin (£) 638 669 631 563 251
Average gross margin £595.55