Understanding how a variety performs on-farm is key to informing future variety choices.
Avoid complacency when it comes to variety selection is the advice of Russell McKenzie, Cambridgeshire farmer, Nuffield scholar and chair for the Crop Breeding Seminar at CropTec Show.
Like many growers in the UK, when it comes to variety selection Mr McKenzie is keen to trial up and coming varieties before considering them for commercial purposes.
He says: “Variety turnover on our farm is high. If a wheat variety stays on our farm for four years then it is doing well. For example, Siskin has been a stable and consistent wheat variety for us recently, but next season we will have to start thinking about a replacement so we aren’t caught behind the pace.
“We rarely have a season where we are not trying something new and that often means growing ‘off the list’. About 50% of our varieties aren’t on the Recommended List and we like to look at the Candidate List for varieties with interesting characteristics and then see how they perform on-farm.”
Understanding how a variety performs on-farm is key, agrees Sarah Middleton, Bayer’s seeds and traits campaign manager. She says the Recommended List can only provide so much information, and beyond a certain point growers need to understand a variety’s performance in ‘real’ conditions.
“The final values on the Recommended Lists represent a series of averages, taken from across the country. However, considering a field in Gloucestershire as ‘like-for-like’ with a field in Suffolk can cause misconceptions. This is why if on-farm trials aren’t an option, visiting local trials which benchmark varieties against each other is so important. This is one of the main reasons why we conduct the InVigor oilseed rape strip trials, so we can understand on a regional level how our hybrids perform against other commercial varieties,” says Mrs Middleton.
Both Mr McKenzie and Mrs Middleton agree there is more which could be done to support growers in their variety decision-making. Whereas a decade ago decisions were largely based around yield, now the influence of black-grass, cabbage stem flea beetle and the effect of disease resistance breakdown in varieties mean growers need a greater depth of information in order to tailor their selection process to the issues they face.
Mrs Middleton says: “One of the most important variety characteristics to consider is autumn vigour, as this is critical in ensuring good, even establishment ahead of winter. That’s true in oilseed rape, where the crop has cabbage stem flea beetle pressure to contend with, and it’s true in wheat where growers are drilling later as part of their black-grass control strategy. This would be extremely valuable information to include on the Recommended Lists, but at present this information isn’t easy to obtain.”
Mr McKenzie adds: “The key is getting the crop up and out of the ground – if it doesn’t do that the yield potential is irrelevant. We have an oilseed rape strip trial on our farm this season which has really demonstrated the speed at which some varieties can get away during those first few weeks of growth, with InVigor 1035 leading the way, followed by DK Exalte.”
On his farm Mr McKenzie grows mostly hybrid oilseed rape, favouring a low seed rate and thin crop which branches well to produce the greatest yield. Last year the challenging drought conditions meant on his farm hybrids outperformed conventionals by 0.4 tonnes/hectare, but the year before that he says it was the other way around.
“The extremely differing seasons add yet another level of complexity to variety decision-making for growers. However, there are options available to make this process easier, which will be part of the discussion at the CropTec Show Breeding Seminar.”
Speakers joining Mr McKenzie at the CropTec Show Breeding Seminar include Jock Wilmott, of Strutt and Parker, who will discuss the financial impact of variety selection using real farm data; independent agronomists Peter Riley and John Purslow, discussing detailed considerations for growers when selecting varieties, such as consistency vs performance and where to get the necessary information; and Prof James Brown, of John Innes Centre, who will provide the latest thinking on fast variety breakdown and the development of more robust genetics in the future.
Bayer is the third-largest agricultural input company in the world, with global expertise in developing breeding programmes from early stage research and development to commercialisation. In order to help meet the challenges of diverse growing conditions worldwide, Bayer has bred highly successful oilseed rape, rice, cotton and vegetables.
This process starts at research centres around the world, as part of a network which never stops pursuing the latest breeding innovations in order to protect harvests from disease, increase yields, and improve plant health. Bayer is proud to sponsor CropTec Show and bring together the agricultural industry to tackle present and future farming challenges.