KWS Parkin, small but mighty

March 2020

Falling short of making it onto the 2019/2020 Recommended List, KWS’ latest wheat offering may be discounted by some as a viable option. But with strong agronomics, this small, but mighty, variety looks set to bring something new to the hard Group 4 portfolio. CPM reviews KWS Parkin.

While of course, it’s an incredibly important source of information, the strict criteria means not every variety makes the cut.

However, this isn’t to say those varieties that fall short aren’t worthy in their own right.

Such is the case for KWS’ latest offering, KWS Parkin— a new hard Group 4 wheat, claimed to be the shortest, stiffest variety on the market, which narrowly missed out on recommendation this year.

Drawing traits from its Reflection x Costello parentage, the aim of KWS Parkin was to create something that gleaned the good agronomics of Reflection, but with the added bonus of yellow rust resistance, explains breeder, Mark Dodds. “Reflection has some good attributes ⁠— nice grain and fairly short in height. Costello, on the other hand, has always sat at the lower end of the yield spectrum, but it does have yellow rust resistance.

“By crossing the two, we’ve been able to capture those good, strong traits from Reflection and give growers that little bit extra with the rust resistance.”

In terms of its stand-out feature, for KWS Parkin, it’s all about its height— or lack of…

At 78.6cm, it’s an impressive 15cm shorter than the tallest variety on the RL.

While taller varieties often bring the reward of increased biomass, this often comes with a penalty of flatter crops, particularly in a catchy season, says John Miles, product development manager at KWS.

He believes that there’s a gap in the market for this kind of variety and KWS Parkin looks to trump the rest with regards to its shortness and stiffness.

“With many growers now looking to drill later in the season, I feel that the attribute of varieties with good stem stiffness is something that’s being lost a little on the RL.

“Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing ⁠— if the majority are drilling later— but for those looking to target the early window they have just a small number of varieties to choose from that are agronomically safe.

“Cast your mind back 15 years or so, if we think of the RL at this time and what varieties were finding favour on farm, products such as Equinox, Cordiale, and Grafton may jump to mind. But what did all these popular types have in common?

“They were all short and stiff types that enabled PGR applications to be simplified, and introduced flexibility into spray windows, allowing them to be safely widened to when workloads or weather conditions permitted.

“Fast forward to today and looking at the RL reveals a very different story. Realistically, I’d say there are only about four or five other options when it comes to really stiff varieties.”

This characteristic goes hand-in-hand with KWS Parkin’s early maturity, he adds. “On a larger farm, or in certain locations, having a variety that is early maturing is incredibly valuable as it allows you to get the harvest going.”

The official score for ripening comes in at -1 day (compared with Skyfall) for KWS Parkin, and John believes growers are now willing to trade slightly on yield because early maturity is just so valuable. “Harvest yield will always come from the longest grain-fill period, which of course naturally pushes you towards later maturing types, so to have something that yields at Parkin’s level and boasts early maturity is quite unique.”

The variety also looks good in terms of its disease package, adds Will Compton, UK country manager at KWS. "KWS Parkin has a combination of disease resistances to help spread the sprayer workload. 

“A score of 9 for yellow rust will help to relieve the workload at T0, while its untreated yield score of 81% of controls is better than the average for feed varieties which should serve to give confidence that KWS Parkin will be an easy-to-manage variety with a high output.”

At the other end of the spectrum, KWS Parkin does receive a score of 4 for eyespot, meaning there is the potential of susceptibility. The advice from KWS is that in second or continuous cereal positions— or in high pressure first wheat situations— an effective eyespot fungicide herbicide should be used at T0 and T1.

As a hard Group 4, the end market will predominantly be for feed, but what kind of grower might KWS Parkin be best suited to?

“KWS Parkin is a great choice for growers that are looking for something different,” explains Kirsty Richards, KWS’ knowledge transfer manager.

For growers looking for something to compare it with, the variety is most similar to Grafton which came off the RL this year, she adds. “While Parkin isn’t Grafton, it’s very similar and if growers are looking for something to replace Grafton in their rotation then Parkin could be a good fit.”

One of the key points about KWS Parkin is that while it’s suited to all regions of the UK, it has performed especially well in KWS trials throughout the Yorkshire/Humber region ⁠— which coincidentally is where ‘Parkin’ cake (a gingerbread cake made with oatmeal and black treacle) originates from, adds Kirsty.

And it’s not just KWS that has high hopes for this short variety. “There’s nothing else on the RL, even at trials, that’s as early as this,” says Tom Barker, assistant seed manager COFCO.

In terms of market share, while Tom feels it won’t dominate the market and claim a huge share, he believes it’s going to be a really important variety for those growers looking for something different and in particular, those looking to target that early slot.

“I think this year will live quite long in farmers’ memories, and I wonder if that will be at the front of their minds when it comes to variety choice.

“No one wants everything ready at the same time, either. If you can spread the cutting window, this will reap the rewards in a catchy harvest.”

Frontier’s Jim Knight says there’s definitely an appetite for a short and stiff variety from a merchant’s point of view. “Parkin is the first in a little while that has these features and will be an important option particularly in the north, not only where straw strength is important but also where an early harvest has a high value.”

With that said, growers and the wider market should be careful not to pigeon hole it solely just as a northern variety, he adds. “More exposed and fertile sites will appreciate KWS Parkin too, no doubt.”

While Tom doesn’t see its yield as an issue, one area to watch for is septoria resistance, which is slightly lower on the spectrum with a score of 5.5. “However, this is a very similar score to the likes of Skyfall, which has still been hugely successful. If growers are aware of it and keep an eye on the crop, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.”

While in general, KWS Parkin has a fairly decent disease profile, it’s important to note that it doesn’t benefit from orange wheat blossom midge resistance, adds Jim. “It’s not necessarily an issue, but it’s certainly something to be aware of as growers are increasingly looking for OWBM resistance. The advice from me is that if you do select KWS Parkin, make sure you’re matching it with a variety that does have midge resistance to make things easier in a high pressure year.”

All in all, Tom says KWS Parkin is a good all-rounder and adds something completely new to the arable toolbox. “It doesn’t feel like just another variety. With its short, stiff straw, early maturity, good yield, and fairly good disease package I think it’s going to be a really good, specific-choice variety.”

The search for solutions

With KWS Parkin very much looking to be a variety that’s utilised for a specific purpose, two growers are trialling it this year to see if it really does do what it says on the tin.

Robert Childerhouse has been the estate manager of Mulgrave Estates, North Yorks for the past three years. Hailing originally from the south, Robert says he noticed a distinctively later harvest on the north Yorks coast, which was causing havoc with the following autumn drilling window. “Harvest is so much later up here which means we have a very narrow turn-around period for getting OSR in the ground or drilling autumn crops.

“Last year, the harvest was so late and we were so far behind that we didn’t manage to get the OSR in until late Sept, which is much too late.”

After being recommended the variety by both his agronomist and seed merchant, Robert says he was instantly attracted to the early maturity and the fact it’s suited specifically to northern growers.

This year, the estate is trialling an 18ha plot to test its potential, and so far, things are looking promising. “We managed to drill it in early Sept and so far it looks very good.”

Though traditionally Skyfall growers, if KWS Parkin continues to perform, it could become the main wheat next year, adds Robert. “At the moment, it’s looking well ahead of our Skyfall— there’s a very noticeable difference. We’ve only just put a token amount of fertiliser on— about 100kg/ha ⁠— so not done much to it at all, but as it looks now, I’m expecting it to out-perform Skyfall.

“I’ve always been a Skyfall man, but I think we may have found our new main crop.”

Though specifically suited to Northern areas of the country, the variety is also proving to be a good performer down in Bedfordshire at Woburn Farms, where farm manager William Haupt is also trialling the variety for the first time this year.

“We have two combines here and were keen to find a variety that helped us spread the combine workload during the busy harvest season,” he explains. “It was the height and stiffness of the variety that really stood out for us in terms of risk management.”

The farm grows a mix of Group 1 and Group 4 wheats and are trialling a 13.6ha plot of KWS Parkin this year to test its ability as a first wheat— either as barn-filler or for seed for COFCO. “It’s emerged very evenly, matching the performance of its neighbour, Skyfall.”

The crop was drilled at a seed rate of 375 seeds/ m² and although it’s suited for the earlier end of the sowing window, weather constraints meant William didn’t get it into the soil until 21 Oct. However, that hasn’t affected performance, he adds. “I’ve actually entered the crop into YEN ⁠— I’m very pleased with it. The plant count is now sitting at about 250/m² and all in all it’s shown very good autumn growth despite a difficult autumn/winter period.”

Is yield still king?

Based on the RL figures, yield could be seen as one of KWS Parkin’s weaker areas, with a treated yield of 102% and untreated sitting at an average of 81%.

However, in KWS’ own trials, it’s still performed well, explains Mark. “The RL is quite difficult to get onto and a variety isn’t often considered unless it meets a specific yield target. However, we’ve found through our own trial work that the variety does particularly well on heavy land with a headline yield of 102%.”

John agrees: “In early sown trials data, KWS Parkin proved to be one of the highest yielding varieties. It’s all about using the right tool for the right job.”

Though it was ultimately its yield that caused KWS Parkin to be left off the RL, Kirsty reckons it's not all just about quantity when it comes to variety choice. “Of course, yield is king, but in the recent AHDB Look Ahead survey, it showed that farmers are looking at attributes other than yield.

“Though it’s not such a common thing to grow “off-list” when it comes to wheat and barley, I don’t think it should deter growers.

“Of course, not being recommended isn’t ideal, and we would always be aiming to get our varieties onto the RL, but we will be supporting it fully as a good choice for specific situations.”

John adds: “The RL is great as it stops mediocre varieties getting onto the list, but obviously there’s the question as to whether its flexible enough.

“When it comes to sowing for peak performance, there’s a lot more things that go into variety choice than just yield, and perhaps that’s been over-simplified and somewhat overlooked throughout the years.”

Click here to read the "insiders view", published in CPM.

Find out more about KWS Parkin