Reliable and consistent: characteristics that every grower prizes


There is no line or official score for variety reliability or consistency on the AHDB Recommended Lists, but they are the qualities that every grower holds dear. It partly explains why many chose to stick with older varieties despite the introduction of those with potentially better yields and disease resistance.

For Wiltshire farmer James Sheppard, ‘reliable and consistent’ is the catch-all term he uses to explain his variety choices.

“No one likes a crop that looks good, but disappoints. And while I might hope for a better yield in a good year, I enjoy the confidence that comes from understanding how to get the best from it in a poor year,” he says.

Farming about 180 hectares of predominantly Andoversford soils outside Marlborough, he follows a simple system that focuses on getting the basics right.

“I like to see crops establish well into a good seedbed and apply the established principles of nutrition. I know which fields present a weed problem and I make good use of spring cereals and over-wintered stubbles to manage them,” he says.

Cropping follows a four-year rotation with market demand an important factor in variety choice. Cordiale winter wheat, Propino spring barley and Marris Otter winter barley all benefit from established demand and the opportunity to secure a price premium.

With oilseed rape however, there is little to distinguish the standard varieties in the market and so management considerations take priority. Farming on the edge of the Savernake Forest means pigeons are a serious problem.

“There is little to separate oilseed rape varieties and I have found conventional types to be just as consistent as hybrids. For me, it comes down to those that establish well and produce an even canopy ahead of the winter.

“Campus has fulfilled this need well and over the past three years it has averaged 3.7t/ha sold off the farm. It’s been reliable and I will stay with it until I am convinced there is something better,” says Mr Sheppard.

He has wider concerns over the future of farming. In particular, the continued poor profitability of arable and livestock enterprises which face an uncertain future with increasing pest and disease pressure in addition to the unknown implications of Brexit.

“The industry needs strong leadership, but government could do more to create a sustainable and profitable industry that is unburdened of onerous standards or stifled by unfair competition.”