Stick with wheat to maximise profits and minimise disruption

December 2019

Drilling winter wheat into the start of 2020 remains the best option for growers struggling to make up the drilling shortfall caused by autumn 2019’s atrocious wet weather, says KWS UK’s John Miles.

Prioritising margin protection in the short term and damage limitation to rotations in the long term should be the focus for most growers and later-drilled wheat delivers on both fronts, he believes.

“With many modern high-performance varieties capable of delivering over 95% of their full yield potential when drilled as late as February and shortages of the UK crop widely predicted, wheat remains the best bet economically.

“But it’s the top option agronomically, too, as moving land planned for winter cropping into spring use could disrupt your rotations for several years which needs avoiding at all costs.”

Many growers will have undrilled winter seed available but if you’re looking to choose a variety specifically for later drilling, vigour, robustness and marketability should be the priorities, he advises.

“The latest 2020/21 AHDB Recommended List shows the highest yielding Group one wheat KWS Zyatt producing over 95% of its full potential yield when drilled in January whilst the top performing Group 3 KWS Firefly can deliver 100% of its yield when drilled into February.

“As well as producing high yields both of these are ‘dynamic’ wheats so they offer the opportunity for creating added value through premium markets – and in a year where shortages of all types of what are predicted, that’s a real advantage.

“The Group 2 varieties KWS Siskin and KWS Extase will offer similar stability of yield and market opportunities if drilled in the first few weeks of 2020 whilst if outright production is your objective, the Group 4s KWS Kinetic and KWS Kerrin perform well as late-drilled options.”

Growers looking at late-drilled wheat need to take on board a few management issues, John Miles says.

“Obviously you need to monitor ground conditions and make sure you’re not storing up problems for the future through damaging or compacting the soil.

“You’ll probably need to up the seed rate a bit and keep an eye on soil temperature – anything above 5oC should be OK this but below this and you’ll run the risk of reducing germination.

“Septoria should be less of an issue as the disease has less time to develop but you’ll need to keep an eye out for any early rusts or mildew developing.

“The shorter growing period means you’ll need to protect tillers too, as they won’t have time to grow back if lost or damaged, so it’s worth investing in high quality ammonium nitrate fertiliser to make sure Nitrogen is taken up quickly and efficiently.”

Get the variety choice and management right and it’s likely you’ll be harvesting in September with minimal disruption to rotations
John Miles, Product Development Manager, KWS

“Anything drilled after Christmas will be later to combine than an autumn sown crop, but if you aim to protect the harvest date as much as possible, you should have the potential to get back into wheat or another cereal for harvest 2021.

“An early maturing wheat such as KWS Extase or KWS Parkin would fit in well or else there is the option of a winter barley.”

If despite your best efforts, you still have to move a proportion of land previously destined for winter crops to spring crops, wheat could still be the best solution, he believes.

“Spring barley seed will be subject to brisk trade plus you’ve got the added complication that ground left over from the winter is likely to be the heavier land you couldn’t get on and that is far from ideal for spring barley.

If you are new to the spring barley it’s a bit of lottery to get the quality right to achieve the higher premiums and with more around then usual it will be very much a buyers’ market, he says.

“In contrast, spring wheat will be ideally suited to the heavier land left over and you’ll still be able to take full advantage of the higher wheat prices resulting from the domestic grain shortage.

“Plus, if you grow a ‘dynamic’ spring wheat such as KWS Cochise and KWS Chilham, in addition to yields approaching 8.0t/ha you’ll be able to take advantage of their high grain quality through Group 2 milling premiums.”

Shorter growing time means lower disease risk and potentially reduced fungicide costs too, John Miles adds.

“Drilling between early February and mid March will avoid any potential ergot issues plus both varieties have orange wheat blossom midge resistance.

“Whether you’re extending your autumn drilling programme into the new year or looking for spring options, there’s a lot to be said for sticking with wheat.”

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