The 2020 season saw a wet autumn and winter, followed by a dry spring and a dull summer. The Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) estimated autumn sown crop potential of 18 tonnes per hectare this year, with the highest potential in the west of the country, compared to the East.
Despite conditions not being conducive to high yields, Aberdeenshire grower, Peter Chapman had his best ever harvest in 2020, winning gold for spring barley best % of potential yield, at 87% of 11.1t/ha and bronze for best cereal yield at 14.8t/ha.
He put his success down to a five-year rotation, and high levels of organic matter.
He said: “Soils are pretty resilient when it comes to drought down to all the 7-8% organic matter. Because it was so dry, making PGR decisions was hard, and both YEN fields ended up being quite flat.”
Mr Chapman said organic manure applications were an important part of his system, with every acre receiving compost, cattle FYM and chicken muck for the last 30 years.
He added: “It was a low disease year, but I use a high input fungicide programme and phosphate fertiliser down the spout, plus chicken muck keeps it green. However, keeping it standing can be a problem.”
The devil is in the detail for multi-award winner Tim Lamyman from Lincolnshire, who came away with both gold and silver from best cereal yield at 15.6/ha and 15.4t/ha, as well as best yield for winter barley at 12.7t/ha and best yield and potential yield in the oilseed category at 7.01t/ha and 69% of the crop’s 10.2t/ha potential.
He said using a ‘no stone unturned’ approach was key to success, as well as learnings from his 2019 YEN report, and getting good root structure and biomass.
Commenting on his oilseed rape crop he said: “We grew LG Acacia, which is short, stiff and has fantastic speed out the ground for a conventional variety. It was early drilled on August 18 and got enough canopy to get away from flea beetle even though they had a go at it. Plants had a really good taproot from the Delta [fertiliser] programme.”
For winter wheat, he said everything from variety choice (KWS Colosseum and KWS Parkin) through to growth regulation and fungicides were key contributors to the winning yield.
The high pH soils on the farm can lead to lock up of potassium and phosphate, which was identified in the YEN grain report, he said.
“Retaining green area starts with rooting structure. Products like TipTop at T1 get potassium and phosphate into the plant to increase stem width and in wheat especially, Revysol and Xemium produced fantastic greening on the flag leaf. Our only issue at harvest is getting it fit to combine.”
Scottish spring barley topped the yield charts, with Fife grower David Bell winning spring barley best field yield at 11.3 t/ha and best winter barley % of potential yield at 84% of 14.1 t/ha.
He said: “Spring barley was drilled early before drought in good conditions which gave it good establishment. It had low nitrogens, under 1.6% for malting. It had 130kg of nitrogen applied, which shows quite a lot came from soil, not just on top. Looking at the YEN report, our pH and molybdenum was a bit low.”
Mr Bell said keeping crops clean of disease was an important factor in achieving yield potential. He said: “We use seed dressings, trace elements, biostimulants and keep the crop really clean of disease. If disease gets on it’s potentially yield being sapped away. Keeping stress off the plant by splitting PGR applications so it’s softer on the growing crop also pays dividends.”
Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley, YEN founder, said: “Although fewer growers found good crops to enter, this year saw some amazing yield achievements. A few yields are even questioning whether our science-based estimates of crop potentials – averaging 18 t/ha from autumn sowings this year – are too pessimistic. This is how farming and science can make progress together – by farmers and scientists sharing their results and posing hard questions to each other.”
Since YEN was launched in 2013, ADAS has assessed the agronomic and environmental components that drive high yields in wheat and oilseed rape.
For winter wheat, the average YEN participant’s yield is 11t/ha, which is just 57% of yield potential, Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley, head of crop performance of ADAS said.
Keeping the crop greener for longer, was a key component, but there was less of a relationship between harvest index and yield than expected, he said.
“Harvest index is reasonably stable compared to biomass of crop. High yielding crops have high biomass. You need more than 25,000 grains/sq.m in order to get a yield of 15t/ha.”
Varieties showed little influence in yield, Prof Sylvester Bradley added.
“Amongst those commercially available, many are capable of producing 15t/ha and we don’t see a big influence in our database. Low yields were associated with macronutrient deficiencies,” he added.
For oilseed rape, data collated since 2017 shows an average yield for YEN participants of 4.8t/ha, 40% of the crop’s yield potential.
Prof Sylvester-Bradley said: “Again, high yields were associated with large plant biomass, not harvest index, as well as modest canopy size at flowering and high seeds numbers/sq.m.
“Higher yields were not associated with variety, but those towards the North tended to have higher yields which was bit of a puzzle, as well as high soil P and Mg.
“Generally, in YEN we don’t see much variation in input use, but fungicide use in OSR is the exception [and was associated with higher yields].”
Farm to farm variation played the biggest role in reaching yield potential for both crops.
“Some farms are consistently better than other farms, but it’s not clear why that is yet,” Prof Sylvester Bradley said.
Best Yield (Field)
Best % of Potential Yield (Field)
Best Yield (Field: Winter Barley)
Best % of Potential Yield (Field: Winter Barley)
Best Yield (Field)
Best % of Potential Yield (Field)
Best Yield (gross output) (Field)
Best % of Potential Yield % of t/ha
For pushing the boundaries of arable crop performance though actively initiating and encouraging crop measurement and testing.