Few growers have the time to trial upwards of 15 varieties to see which perform best on their farm, but for Stephen Buckle, host farmer of the GrainCo winter wheat demonstration plots at Limebar Farm, Boroughbridge, it is a worthwhile and rewarding exercise.
With 35 varieties on the Recommended List however, the first challenge is to identify those from each market group that have delivered above-average performances in the region in official trials. As someone with a background in plant science and botany this is an appealing task and Stephen enjoys studying the details that separate varieties.
Limebar Farm is not however, your typical trial site. The closure of the sugar beet factory at York in 2007 signalled the end of a four-year rotation and the start of continuous cereals. With the exception of some seasonal labour Stephen manages the 285-acre farm on his own. In the interests of maintaining a simple system that lends itself to only one operator, half of the farm is in continuous wheat while the remainder is predominantly winter barley with a small area of spring wheat to ensure the farm complies with the three-crop rule.
Across the sandy loam soils performance is good with a five-year average winter wheat yield of 9.8 t/ha (3.97 t/ac) though Stephen is quick to point out that this slightly misleading as 2015 was an exceptional year that skews the results. Without it, the five-year average is closer to a still-nonetheless-respectable, 9.5 t/ha (3.84 t/ac). The five-year winter barley yields are a little lower at 8.5 t/ha (3.44 t/ac) which many growers might consider to be a more impressive performance than the wheat. The barley is usually spread between several varieties grown as seed for GrainCo.
Wheat drilling follows the barley and usually commences towards the end of September typically finishing three weeks later. “It’s not a rapid process and doing all operations on my own means I usually manage about 15 acres a day,” says Stephen. Come the spring and the wheats typically receive four fungicides and about 250 kg N/ha while the barley tends not to get a T3 and about 50kg less N/ha.
For the past two years the best performing varieties in trial have come from KWS with Group 4 hard feed Kerrin and Group 1 milling wheat Zyatt being the most consistent high yielders. For this reason, Kerrin and Zyatt make up the 81 ha (200 ac) of commercial winter wheat at Limebar Farm whereas two years ago before the demonstration trials gave a greater insight into individual variety performance, it was Skyfall and Dickens.
While Zyatt and Kerrin deliver the goods at Limebar Farm Stephen notes that this owes much to them simply being well-suited to his farm situation.
“Both Kerrin and Zyatt perform well in the eastern region, prefer to be drilled in mid-October (when the trail plots are sown) and are good second wheats making them ideally suited to my farm conditions. Other varieties, such as Graham and Revelation, may perform much better as first wheats and drilled three to four weeks earlier. Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from the trials is that not all varieties are the same, it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’,” he says.
Coincidentally, they also appeal to his desire to have a mix bread-making and feed wheats which made them the obvious varieties to succeed Skyfall and Dickens.
“My preference is to a have a combination of Group 1 and 4 varieties partly because it spreads the risk while still receiving a premium for part of my crop, but also I have the storage to keep them separate. It makes sense to choose those that are the highest yielding from each group and for me this means spreading the area between one-third of Zyatt and two-thirds of Kerrin,” he explains.
Managing the variety plots over the past two years has also given him an insight into the characteristics that shape each variety. What looks good, doesn’t always mean it will yield well, he says.
“As with much of life, looks can be deceiving. For example, I look at Kerrin in the spring and it always looks good to me while Zyatt is less attractive and yet they yield similarly. It reminds me not to make judgements until I have all the facts before me,” says Stephen.
It is a similar tale with winter barley. Glacier, he says, “was a scary variety to grow, especially on an open hill where brackling is a concern. In contrast, Cassia has been a consistent variety over the last six years and has good grain quality. While slightly higher yields are achievable with newer varieties, in my experience the yield gap is still quite small,” he adds.
More recently he has grown Orwell for seed describing it as “another solid performer. It yields better than Cassia, but if it has a weakness it is mildew though this should not surprise anyone given its score of 3 on the Recommended List.”
Across the winter wheats in trial there is significant variation in disease resistance, so as someone who gets to see up close the difference between scores of 6.7 at the top end and 4.5 at the bottom for Septoria tritici how will the withdrawal of the popular multi-site fungicide chlorothalonil effect his variety selection?
“I remain attracted to Group 1 and 4 varieties over those in 2 and 3, so assuming the order of varieties that yield well here doesn’t change then post CTL use-up I will probably grow more Zyatt and less Kerrin because the value of resistance will increase with the loss of fungicides,” explains Stephen.
- This 2019 open day is on 19th June and varieties included in the trial include three newly recommended varieties, KWS Extase, KWS Firefly and LG Skyscraper, and a hybrid wheat Hiclick.