Simple Steps To Improve Risk Management In Wheat

Increasingly variable growing conditions experienced over the last few years and brought into sharp focus by 2019’s wet autumn drilling season are forcing many growers to think more carefully about their future wheat strategies, says Dr. Kirsty Richards of KWS.

Adapting basic management practices and choosing varieties to suit individual growing situations more closely could do much to introduce better risk management into the crop’s production, she believes.

“The impact of last autumn is still fresh in everybody’s mind but in reality, this is a continuation of increasingly variable growing conditions experienced in recent years.

“Unpredictable drilling periods, cold springs typified by the ‘Beast from the East’ and late harvests are all making wheat production harder than ever.

“Add in reduced windows of opportunity for field operations, ongoing agrochemical revocation and a need to use inputs more wisely and you get a good picture of the challenges many growers now face.”

With this year’s new crops now being planned, growers should not be panicked into drilling early to avoid a repeat of last year when many could simply not get seed in the ground, she stresses.

“Early drilling presents the risk of additional disease pressures such as Septoria which can have consequences later in the season, not to mention blackgrass and BYDV, so you must try and stick to your usual drilling dates. If you usually start drilling in early October then aim for that.

“But where you can reduce potential risks is to focus on drilling resilient varieties, always growing at least three of these and matching them to their optimum sowing slots.”

If you are worried about the weather, think carefully about drilling logistics and variety, advises the company’s John Miles.

“You already know which blocks of land you can start maybe a little bit earlier, and those you know have a blackgrass problem, so play the varieties in their strongest position

“Your first variety should be one with good early-drilled performance, stiff strawed, early harvest types like KWS Parkin or KWS Firefly – they suit this slot perfectly. You can then use following varieties strategically depending on the biggest threats you face.

“A variety like KWS Extase in the second slot, with its Septoria resistance score of 8.1 and untreated yield of 10.6t/ha in the 2020/21 RL, can be used as a tool to protect against septorial load and reduce the risk of the disease pressure on your farm, significantly.”

This has the added bonus of giving growers a variety that gets away quickly in the spring and holds this lead to harvest, but it also enables them to take advantage of some of the highest yielders for the later drilling spots, he points out.

“If you don’t grow a top yielding Group 4 like KWS Kerrin you’re missing out on the highest yield performance. Many of the highest yielding varieties on the RL have a septoria score of under six. This is much less of a challenge when you have reduced the septoria risk in the lower risk slots from Mid-October onwards

Reduce potential risks this autumn by drilling resilient varieties, always grow at least three of these and match them to their optimum sowing slots

If you want a milling wheat in this position, especially in the second wheat slot, then KWS Zyatt would be a good choice. KWS Zyatt has a strong Septoria resistance useful for mitigating risks.

Performance of these later-drilled varieties is also important with regard to weed control, he says.

“The best thing you can do to combat blackgrass and stay reasonably profitable is to delay your drilling, but you also need to choose varieties that optimise this through an ability to establish well when sown late and cover the ground quickly so no room is left for weed growth.

“High tillering varieties that create a nice carpet and that are vigorous in the spring to steal a march on the blackgrass are also beneficial. A good canopy will extend weed competition throughout the whole of the season.”

Adding a greater range of varieties will also help with day-to-day management and workloads, John Miles points out.

“Fewer available spray days due to more variable weather conditions means most growers generally aim to be able get all their wheat sprayed in 2-3 days.

“If you have a large area of just one variety with a specific window for certain applications that puts a lot of pressure on you and you’ll probably have other things that need doing on those same days, as well.

“Apart from routine applications, if something unexpected happens and you need to get the sprayer out, you’re left with a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

“More varieties should mean a better spread of growth stages which mean you can manage your workload much better and sequencing your inputs in an optimal manner has got to be one of the most effective ways you can maximise profitability.”

It’s the same when it comes to harvesting, if we sequence the drilling right we also plan the harvesting he points out.

“With a range of varieties reaching maturity at different times you can spread your combining more evenly so just as your finishing one block the next one is ready.

“As well as reducing the chance that all your crop becomes ready at the same time, it’s a much better approach than having to chase all over the place trying to find crops that are fit before you might loose optimum quality and yield.”

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