KWS Firefly Gets a Big Thumbs Up

The Breeders View

KWS has made a significant contribution to revitalising the Group 3 wheat sector with two strong contenders, says Mark Dodds, the company’s Wheat Breeder.

KWS Barrel, a Bantam x Viscount cross, has been at the forefront of this development and accounted for 3.7% of wheat certified sales in its first commercial year. Now the leading Group 3 variety, it performs well throughout the UK and is an ideal choice for the uks markets.

More recently it has been joined by KWS Firefly, a Cougar x KWS Rowan cross, which is the UK’s highest-yielding Group 3 with a 2% yield advantage over other varieties in this category and has met the Group 3 criteria over three years of nabim testing and in commercial evaluations too. Its strong grain package includes a Hagberg Falling Number (HFN) of 248, better than others in the Group 3 biscuit/export market, while its correct balance of resistance and extensibility means that it is well suited to the requirements of biscuit manufacturers. KWS Firefly has the uks classification and is therefore fully approved for export.

The joint stiffest on the AHDB Recommended List, KWS Firefly has broad market appeal and performs well across light and heavy soils, as well as in the first or second cereal slot. Added to these attributes, it provides one of the most impressive Septoria scores of any high-yielding variety.

“Ten to fifteen years ago the highest yielding wheat varieties were Group 3s, but then various hard and soft Group 4s came along and caught growers’ eyes,” Mark outlines. “The subsequent tightening of the supply: demand balance for Group 3s meant that the biscuit market suffered and over the last three years good premiums have been available.

“Bringing a new wheat variety to market is a 9 to 10-year process, from first cross to commercial launch. We are continually breeding for all groups and our goal is to produce varieties that deliver for the end user as well as incorporating the traits required to make them consistent, reliable and grower friendly. The key is to test in all conditions so that those which eventually make it to the commercial stage have been proven to be consistent across a wide range of situations.

“The extremes of wet and dry weather that have characterised the last few years have been particularly apparent this season and underlined the fact that really no season is ‘normal’. But what we have not had for a long time is the combination of farmers drilling later in the autumn because of extreme wet weather in October and November, combined with a very dry spring. In this situation, the crop is highly stressed and high-tillering varieties will perform better because high tiller numbers are the biggest component in achieving a high number of grains per square metre.

“KWS Firefly went on the Recommended List at the end of last year, so this is its first really big year in the market. In my view it is an excellent example of a variety which has excellent all-round appeal, both to end-users and growers who will appreciate its excellent overall agronomic package, which provides them with security of harvest.

Its’ key attributes are that it has short, stiff straw and scores ‘8’ for lodging resistance whether PGR treated or untreated. This gives it excellent standing power and ensures that the crop is easy to harvest, so the full yield potential can be captured. KWS Firefly also has a best-in-class 7.0 for resistance to Septoria tritici, which with the loss of chlorothalonil is becoming much more important, it scores ‘9’ for Yellow Rust and is Orange Wheat Blossom Midge (OWBM) resistant.” Martin Perry Bartholomew’s

A Thumbs Up from the Trade

We’re really excited about KWS Firefly, for a number of reasons,” states Martin Perry, Senior Trader for Bartholomews Agri Food Ltd in Chichester, West Sussex. The company trades approximately 500,000 tonnes of ex-farm grain each year, approximately half of which is shipped to customers in the UK and Europe through its internationally recognised grain storage and port facility at Shoreham Silos in West Sussex.

“Our job is to supply what markets and end-users require,” Martin outlines. “In our geographical area there is little inherent demand for Group 4 feed wheat, so we encourage growers to aim for the quality milling wheats in Groups 1 - 3. There are many growers who produce high quality Group 1 wheat, but for those that struggle to achieve 13% protein because of their location or soil type, then perhaps Group 3 soft varieties may be a better option”

“In concentrating on Group 3 varieties, growers benefit from fewer inputs, making them cheaper to grow due to their lower protein wheat specification. There is a shortfall of availability in the South of England, so we are encouraging farmers to grow more to meet demand, specifically for milling customers in Iberia. However, it is important to select varieties with the correct milling characteristics that attract a good premium”.

“As a true Group 3, KWS Firefly falls firmly into this category as a quality biscuit wheat comparable with varieties which were prominent in this sector over a decade ago. Riband, Consort and Claire for example, delivered very consistent results and had specific characteristics which made them ideally suited to the requirements of the export market in Europe. However about 10 years ago, growers migrated to lower quality Group 4 soft wheat (including Viscount and Alchemy), which was when cargoes from the UK to Iberia begin to fall away dramatically. The drop in quality almost killed what had been a major export market and it has required significant effort to get those customers back.”

In concentrating on Group 3 varieties, growers benefit from fewer inputs, making them cheaper to grow due to their lower protein wheat specification
Martin Perry, Senior Trader for Bartholomews Agri Food Ltd.

In recent years, plant breeders have developed several new Group 1 varieties which can achieve yields comparable to Group 4’s but offer the possibility of a £15-£25/MT milling premium. With little downside risk, growing them has been something of a ‘no-brainer’ and consequently the Group 1 market share in the South of England has risen from 20% to 35%, while Group 2 has fallen to barely 10%. Group 3 wheats have also suffered because no direct quality replacements for Riband, Consort and Claire have been introduced to meet the requirements of soft wheat export markets.

“When customers in the UK flour industry talk about wheat, they focus on protein content, but this is not an indication of flour quality for European customers. Particularly Spain and Portugal, the focus is on the quality of gluten and millers expect to see a real difference between flours produced from Group 3 versus Group 4 wheats, so their characteristics are important.”

“There is also a big difference in baking techniques in certain markets. In the UK and Northern Europe bakers will often leave dough to prove overnight, whereas their counterparts in hotter countries need flour to produce dough which can be used immediately to make bread and pasta, so extensibility is the key and the Chopin Alveograph test is used to measure this metric as a matter of routine.”

Developed in France by Marcel Chopin during the 1920s, the Chopin Alveograph is used extensively in the baking industry worldwide to help determine what a particular wheat flour is useful for by measuring the tenacity (resilience), extensibility and elasticity of a dough produced using a standardised mix of flour and water. So important is the Chopin Alveograph test that Bartholomews conduct extensive and specific tests using an alveograph machine based in their laboratory at Chichester to replicate those which their customers carry out.

The Alveograph inflates the dough until it bursts, a computer measures the point at which it does so and the resulting reading provides a good index of the baking quality of the flour. Different values are extracted from the analysis of the bursting point. These include ‘P’, the maximum pressure that the dough was able to withstand, which indicates its’ strength, and ‘L’ the time taken for the bubble to burst, which indicates its’ flexibility.

“In recent years, wheat breeders have understandably focussed more on attributes which will appeal to growers, including strong agronomic characters such as short, stiff straw, good disease resistance and high yields,” Martin observes. “However, this has sometimes been at the expense of developing varieties which don’t always fulfil the quality requirements of traditional Group 3 milling customers.”

“We can see this by looking at two Group 3 varieties from KWS. Bassett appeals to growers for many reasons in the field, but does not do the same job as Firefly. From trials data, Firefly has all the characteristics of the earlier Group 3 varieties that were in such great demand by European millers, but its improved yield and agronomic characters make it appealing on-farm. One particularly important attribute is that flour produced from this variety delivers the P/L ratio that they are looking for, with an ‘L’ measurement of at least 100, although in 2018 we achieved extraordinary ‘L’ readings of 120-140.”

“Provisional data indicates that KWS Firefly will have an important role to play in the Group 3 segment and with a potential premium £10-£15 for the coming harvest it provides an attractive proposition for growers.”

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