No room for complacency as production costs review leads to variety change


It has been a good harvest for Kent farm manager Ryan McCormack and for the first time in his 12 years working for Burden Bros the business has not incurred any claims on more than 5000 tonnes of wheat. But with harvest 2019 now just another memory, thoughts have turned to the next year and a review of performance has prompted a change in cropping policy for the coming season.

The family-owned farm covers 1280 hectares across the Isle of Sheppy and north Kent with Group 1 winter wheats and hybrid winter barley and spring barley dominating the rotation. Where possible premiums are sought to maximise incomes.

For harvest 2019 the Group 1 wheat area of 500 hectares was split equally between Crusoe and KWS Zyatt with a further 40 ha of high-protein variety KWS Montana on a specialist end-user contract and 8 ha of Clare grown at the request of a local distiller. In addition, there is a small area of winter oilseed rape though it is not a regular feature of the rotation, and 70 ha of forage maize for the herd of suckler cows. This autumn will see the addition of 50 ha of winter beans grown for seed.

It is the contrasting performance of the two Group 1 winter wheat varieties however, that has led to a change for the 2020 season with the importance of good agronomic strengths driving variety choice.

“There is little to separate the yield potential of the Group 1 varieties on the Recommended List, but from an agronomic perspective, KWS Zyatt is the outstanding choice and the best for our situation. Its greater autumn vigour, lower fungicide requirement (compared with Crusoe), and ability to hold quality through a period of wet weather mean it will be our only Group 1 next season as we will no longer be growing Crusoe,” says Mr McCormack.

Both varieties had what Mr McCormack describes as “a sensible, but not comprehensive agronomy package” based around four fungicides between T0 and T3, but a bad year for brown rust meant Crusoe needed an additional spray to keep on top of the disease. Both varieties received between 220 and 250 kg N/ha depending on soil nitrogen supply, and while there was little to separate the two varieties on yield – across both varieties the farm averaged 11.89 t/ha over 500 ha – that KWS Zyatt held its grain quality after a week of unsettled weather in August proved reassuring. A protein of 14%, a HFN over 300 seconds and a specific weight of 81kg/hl mean it easily met milling specification.

“We know Crusoe can make the protein specification and Zyatt more than matched it. What impressed most is that it held its Hagberg through the heavy rains in mid-August,” he says.

“Agronomically, KWS Zyatt is the better fit with our system. It has good resistance to Septoria and other foliar diseases, is reasonably fast through the early growth stages which means it is up and away in the autumn before our clay soils become too cold. This is helpful when drilling is delayed due to wet weather or there is the need to spray a late flush of grassweeds. Straw is also important to us as we have an export market for it. Stiff strawed varieties are a must so not having any laid crops this summer is immensely satisfying,” he adds.

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