Yield returns to the fore in variety selection


There is no shortage of high-yielding varieties on the AHDB Recommended List (RL), but look a little closer and there is plenty to separate the best-performing from the rest. At 106% of controls KWS Kerrin and Shabras are comfortably ahead of all others, but what are the other factors to consider when identifying the varieties that best suit your farm.

While it is possible to grow a quality wheat as a feed, when all-out yield is what determines variety choice then it becomes a simple process of elimination, he suggests.

With 26 varieties in the Group 4 category, it pays to study the data to see which will best match your farm, believes Chris Piggott, Frontier Agriculture’s seed adviser.

“All roads lead to Kerrin: it is the highest yielding wheat in both the first and second cereal position and when sown late. It is also good on both heavy and light soils.

“Across all regions and years in trial it is always in the top two highest yielding varieties so we believe it is a versatile variety with proven consistency. Performance in the late sowing slot (after mid-November) is becoming increasingly important to growers as more adopt this tactic to controlling black-grass. Kerrin’s performance suggests it will appeal strongly to growers in this situation,” says Chris Piggott.

Gleadell Agriculture seed manager Chris Guest takes a similar view. “Quality wheats aren’t for everyone and with premiums for these types down on recent years the focus has returned to yield. Our experience is that feeds can be pushed harder for yield than quality types which is why Kerrin, and Shabras, are the varieties to consider. If midge resistance is a requirement, then Kerrin is the better choice,” he says.

“It’s [Kerrin] first wheat potential is the highest on the RL, with excellent performance in both first and second wheat situations. In terms of agronomics, it doesn’t stand out as being better on one specific criteria than any other variety, but it looks to be an absolute barn-filler,” he says.

A basic gross margin comparison highlights why feed wheats could be finding renewed favour with growers. The yield advantage and cheaper growing costs of feed wheats means the quality wheats still need an attractive premium to compete, explains Chris Guest.

“Take Skyfall as the benchmark: on a simple gross output basis Skyfall with a £10/t premium will earn about £90-100/ha more than Kerrin, but from this the grower has to fund the cost of additional nitrogen to meet protein requirements, a T3 spray for fusarium that could be missed with a feed and, potentially, suffer deductions for quality that wouldn’t apply with a feed wheat. With premiums where they are, it is quite plausible that some growers will return to pushing for all-out yield without concern for grain protein quality that comes with trying to meet specification,” he says.

Table Kerrin

Varietal disease resistance has assumed greater importance in recent years as margins have come under pressure and growers investigate opportunities to save on inputs. While advisers would argue that disease resistance is a management tool for planning spray workloads, not an opportunity to cut costs, growers are nonetheless moving to those varieties perceived to be easier to manage. Is there merit in this approach?

“The problem with skimping on inputs is that you only know if it was safe to do after the event. I would be wary of dismissing a high-yielding variety purely on its disease ratings,” says Chris Piggott.†

This year’s dry spring makes disease comparisons between varieties more difficult than it might be, but even so there are still some surprises, he says.

“There is still some way to go this season, but at one of our trials in the west of England, Septoria on Kerrin, with a Septoria score of 5.2, is no worse than Revelation, with a score of 6.4, which many would consider having good resistance. Across all our sites, it is showing very little yellow rust and deserved of its 7 score on the RL.”

An issue that both Chris Guest and Chris Piggott also agree on is the rising importance of orange wheat blossom midge resistance.

“For a long time, growers have not had to consider a variety’s midge status, but with insecticides under pressure and pyrethroid resistance among most aphid species increasing, this is again a concern. Growers are rightly prioritising its importance,” says Chris Piggott.