Making the case for spring wheat
Why the obsession with spring barley, when spring wheat provides growers with flexibility in the autumn and, potentially, a better gross margin come harvest? Dominic Kilburn finds out. You may not know it as this but, right now in late November, we are in the so-called ‘grey area’ – a period when the decision to stop drilling latersown winter wheat varieties and switch to spring types might have to be made. Getting that decision spot on isn’t easy. Last autumn, for example, late drilling of winter wheat was very successful as conditions assisted many growers in drilling winter varieties right up until the year end, but every season is different and the danger of continuing with winter wheat can be all too apparent if conditions, as they can, turn quickly at this time of the year. According to KWS product manager John Miles (left), once we get into this grey area of the calendar, growers shouldn’t be playing the ‘black-grass lottery’ by continuing to drill winter wheat varieties when conditions may dictate that a sensible option would be to change to a spring variety. “At this time of the year, good black-grass control is very reliant on the weather to be able to provide the right conditions for pre-em herbicide efficacy, rolling/ seedbed consolidation,” said Mr Miles, speaking at a Spring Cropping briefing staged at KWS’ base in Thriplow, Cambs. “And it’s also a transitional time when we start to push late-sown winter wheat out of its comfort zone, potentially resulting in yield erosion, but start moving into spring wheat’s
comfort zone.” He referred to Agrii and KWS (2016) late sown wheat trials which highlighted the similarity of yields between its spring wheat KWS Willow, when drilled in late November and early December, with high yielding winter wheats suited to late drilling. “What can be achieved in this grey area is of course seasonally dependent and there will always be a certain percentage of growers’ land that will be earmarked for winter sown varieties but, for some areas, being flexible and having a planned approach where a chunk of land can be switched to spring-sown varieties is a good option,” he added.
Good seedbeds Also speaking at the event was ProCam’s head of crop production, Nick Myers (right) and he suggested that being prescriptive with cropping plans can get growers into difficulty. “At this time of the season, late drilling of winter wheat varieties into good quality seedbeds is key. Without good seedbeds then you can’t get the required herbicide efficacy for effective black-grass control and so that land should be left for a springsown alternative. “You have to be able to react according to the conditions,” he continued. “Last year, in Essex, some growers didn’t start drilling winter wheat until mid-October and they finished in December as it remained so dry. There was potential for good black-grass control because of the good conditions but there is also
KWS has introduced a new quality spring wheat to the UK market coming from its pan-European breeding programme in Germany. KWS Sharki is an ‘E’ wheat, has been in UK trials for the past few years and has promising milling and baking data, explained KWS value chain manager Dr Kirsty Richards. In heavy land trials earlier this year in Suffolk, Sharki yielded just below Mulika, however in light land trials in Cambridge, the same season, Sharki’s yield was greater. Its specific weight in both trials was very good, she highlighted. In baking tests compared with leading Group 1 variety Skyfall, Sharki has produced excellent protein levels, good Hagberg and very high specific weight, highlighted Dr Richards. “We are still at the development phase with Sharki and we need to spend more time evaluating it. While there is no seed available for general release at the moment, it could be an exciting variety for the future,” she added. Sharki is in the EU common catalogue and is entering NL1 trials.
the potential to be lulled into a false sense of security. “If you have set your stall out for an acreage of spring drilling for where you have bad black-grass, then stick to it, as spring drilling is the ultimate in black-grass control. But I have seen growers in this situation who find some good weather in late November and continue with winter wheat,” he stressed. “In addition, this autumn there have been growers that, because they got such good control of blackgrass last season, they reverted back to early drilling of winter wheat thinking everything is alright again, and they risked getting a lot of black-grass coming through with their crops.”
Advantage spring wheat? John Miles pointed out that while there had been significant growth in spring barley plantings over the past few seasons, spring wheat had remained a ‘Cinderella crop’. “If there is a good autumn then it gets left out of rotations but perhaps we need
to see a bit of a mind-set change for more growers to adopt it?” he questioned. “There are traditional spring malting barley growing areas of the country where farmers know what they are doing in terms of producing a malting quality crop, but those just looking at a spring cereal crop as an alternative to a winter crop should compare feed versus feed. “In RL trial yield comparisons over the past few seasons, spring wheat has averaged 7.7t/ha compared with spring barley at 7.6t/ha. “And turning to recent gross margin comparisons (based on a £10/t price advantage in favour of spring wheat), the crop achieved a £75/ha gross margin over that of spring barley (£832/ha compared with £757/ha). “Spring cereals haven’t had the same investment by breeders as winter varieties over the years – and both spring barley and spring wheat have a place in the market – but the latter is very much undervalued,” reckoned Mr Miles. Also focussing on crop profitability, Nick Myers highlighted continued over...
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