Learning how to get the most out of new Group 1 milling wheats may take time, as what works on one type of soil may not be so effective as on another. Heather Briggs speaks to some of the trade specialists to learn more.
As widely predicted last year, there has been tremendous interest in Skyfall and in its first year on the market it is the second biggest variety (68,500 hectares). KWS Trinity has also received the millers’ full Group 1 approval and will be sold commercially from 2016.
At 102%, KWS Trinity and Skyfall are the joint top yielders among the five Group 1 bread-making winter wheats on the 2015/16 HGCA Recommended List, coming above Crusoe (99%), Gallant (97%) and Solstice (96%).
However, the trials which provide the data for the Recommended List (RL) are grown to a feed wheat regime, so the values which appear are not necessarily a true guide to what happens when grown under a regime to achieve milling specification.
Simon Howell, managing director at RAGT, who developed Skyfall, says the variety has totally new genetics and is not related to other UK varieties. “With yields of 102% as a first and second wheat and on heavy land [on light land yield was 104%], Skyfall has been remarkably consistent over the past three years,” he says.
Work has started on evaluating the new varieties’ requirements for N fertiliser, reports Daniel Kindred, senior research scientist at ADAS.
“We are looking to see how they compare in terms of yield and protein response to see how much more N they really need,” he says.
The breeder-sponsored trials are testing a new trial plot methodology of new pots to compare all the varieties together in exactly the same environment across a full range of N rates.
As part of the Sainsbury’s Wheat Development Group, ADAS is also working with Camgrain growers to assess the effect of applying late N on new varieties like Skyfall and Crusoe, using tramline comparisons.
“The study is not only looking at grain protein at the farm level, but will also do baking tests with Whitworths,” he says. “This work on these high yielding varieties will help growers learn how to manage them.”
Moreover, he says, Skyfall is the only winter milling wheat with orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) resistance.
He adds the variety is best drilled towards the end of September as it develops quickly in autumn. Early trial results suggest it performs well in late drilling situations, but further work is required.
“Nevertheless, to be able to push the variety to the limit may take two to three years as growers learn to get the most from it,” he says.
John Miles, product development manager at KWS, sees the new varieties creating a step-change in yield.
He observes as a new addition to the RL, it is still early days for KWS Trinity. The company has grown the variety on plot trials, and more recently, large-scale crops on commercial farms over a number of locations over the past few years. However, as with any high yielding quality wheat, he notes careful management of nutrition will be required to maximise both yield and protein levels.
“You are not going to hit a 13% specification on just 240kg/ha of nitrogen [N],” he says. “The key to getting the most from high yielding milling wheat will be to match N applications to yield expectations and protein requirements.
“If your variety will make eight tonnes/ha you need 200kg/ha of N in the plant. It goes without saying if you expect to get 10-11t/ha, then the crop will need to have access to more N.”
He also points out the dangers of using high seed rates, which are currently fashionable in the quest to get the crop to compete with black-grass. “If you don’t lose some tillers you will have to work really hard to fill the grain,” he adds.
Rick Davies, a finalist in the 2014 nabim/HGCA Milling Wheat Challenge, leaves no stone unturned when it comes to care and attention for his crop so he can access maximum premiums for milling wheat.
He and his father have been growing milling wheat at Newton Lodge, Buckinghamshire, since 1992 and 90% of the time have achieved the Group 1 specification of 13% protein.
Along with most growers, he struggled in 2012, and although the crop made the protein and Hagberg requirements, it fell down on specific weight.
In 2015 the farm is growing 245ha of wheat, of which 60% is first wheat, with the remainder second wheat. This year the first wheats are Crusoe and Skyfall, and second wheat Gallant. “We chose Gallant because it is early maturing, so we can get it cleared off the land in good time for the rape,” he says. “Crusoe is a later maturing variety, gaining an extra week’s worth of sunshine, and as a result often provides us with that extra yield. The two varieties complement each other very well and spread the load of harvest and the risk of losing Hagbergs.”
In the past he grew Solstice, but found its yield performance of late had dropped off compared with the newer varieties, and its susceptibility to yellow rust was the final nail in the coffin.
This year Mr Davies has taken on some new land which is heavier soil than his home farm and thus will have a higher requirement for nitrogen (N).
He plans to split 240kg/N/ha three ways, leaving 50kg/N/ha for late application, bringing the total to 290kg/N/ha. Ammonium sulphate is applied for the first split, providing 60kg/N/ha and 70kg/ha of sulphur and the remaining two splits each deliver about 80kg/N/ha from urea. All applications will be made using the Soyl canopy model to try to ensure an even canopy across all soil types and will be proofed throughout the season with tissue testing.
Once the flag leaf is fully emerged Mr Davies will test crops with a chlorophyll meter to determine the requirements for the final protein dose of ammonium nitrate, which is usually about 50kg/ha N.
“We use the Soyl reverse model to ensure the high-yielding areas of the field will receive more nitrogen and avoid a protein dilution effect,” he says.
“The main aim is to have a heap of grain which has a consistent protein content throughout, eliminating [with luck] the peaks and troughs often found across a variable field.
“On light land I typically apply a total of 260kg/ha of N, whereas the heavier land takes 290kg/ha.”
One of the challenges Mr Davies has to address is very different soils across single fields; with some going from clay to sand gravel with some silt and then to limestone brash. “At Newton Lodge we have been using variable rate phosphate and potassium spreading for the past 12 years, and this helps us achieve a uniform crop across all soil types, and made some significant savings on base fertilisers.”
Achieving the 13% protein level is not only about getting fertiliser right – a robust fungicide programme is also a must.
“About 10 days before each fungicide application timing we test to see if the plant is low on trace elements such as manganese, magnesium, copper, zinc, boron and sulphur, which gives us time to get things ordered,” he says. “We are not too worried about other elements at this stage as the plant is not sufficiently developed to forage for them.
“We also monitor the crops closely to ensure the plant is at the right stage of development for the fungicide and growth regulators to have maximum efficacy.” If the plant is not ready, he will hold off until the time is right.
At T0 Mr Davies applies a chlorothalonil-based and triazole product and at T1 and T2 goes for SDHI fungicides plus chlorathoranil.
Moddus is also applied at growth stage (GS) 30 and 32 as it helps the plant retain phosphate and enhances the roots ability to draw moisture, increasing the crops drought tolerance.
He also applies two strobilurins, one at T1 and one at T3.
He finalises his T1 and T2 applications with a seaweed extract product, applying 0.75 litres/ha at each timing. “It is full of trace elements and micronutrients and we find it is a really good tonic as it helps greening and rooting.” He also applies 2kg/ha of Thiovit at T1 and T2.
“It gets more sulphur into the plant and enhances the health of the plant. It is also a very good fungicide in its own right and gives a very good visible indicator of the unprotected new growth,” he says.
Depending on the year, he might drop the sulphur out of T2 and apply it about a week or 10 days later, with another mixture of trace elements to ensure all the flag leaves are fully covered.
T3 is applied as close to flowering as possible; within 24 hours, if possible. Last year’s long flowering period meant a top-up was necessary and Mr Davies used tebuconazole to ensure the remaining ears had been covered and keep the late-on rust and fusarium at bay.
“You need a robust programme if you wish to target high yields and achieve full specification because if you can see disease in the crop you have already lost the battle,” he says. “We also spend good money on the trace elements, if you are chasing the yields and the premiums, you can consider it very well spent.”
Weed control also plays an important role, so he has been roguing black-grass for three years to eliminate the issue and reduce possible threat of ergot in the sample. “We go all out to ensure there is as little seed return to the soil as is realistically possible.”
Mr Davies observes when a new milling wheat comes along many people jump on the bandwagon and that can spoil it for everyone. “If you treat it like a feed wheat you will get the results for a feed wheat with average protein,” he says. “These new high-yielding wheats need to be pushed hard.”
He says he is not sure how Skyfall will fit in with the other varieties, and also causes storage headaches as he aims to store all varieties separately. “Crusoe and Gallant work really well together, and it will be interesting to see how we go with the three. We don’t have the facilities to grow four wheats, but we will be keeping a sharp eye out for how well Trinity performs.”
Going all-out to achieve the maximum premium for 13% protein in the new high-yielding Group 1 milling wheats such as Skyfall and Trinity may be the aim of some growers, while others considering aiming for an export market which demands 11.5% could also do extremely well.
Millers are in a position to accept wheat protein levels below 13%, says George Mason, senior executive at millers Heygates.
Growers can aim for protein levels of between 12% and 13% and still reflect a good return, he says.
“Although 13% is the benchmark publicised in many areas, the reality is it does not have to be the aim. Deliveries are acceptable to most flour mills, with price adjustments for protein levels down to 12.5% or 12%.
“Realising a 13% protein sample on a high-yielding variety may be a challenge in years when yields are high – such as 2014 – or when fertiliser prices limit the financial return achievable. Producing the right combination in the most costeffective way is the key.”
Achieving 13.5% should not be the goal; there is not always a guarantee of an extra premium for the extra protein, so money spent achieving this level may be wasted, he maintains.
Mr Mason is excited by the new milling wheats coming to the market, but hopes farmers will target their growing regime with the end market of their choice.
He points out UK millers also require a considerable volume of 11.5% Group 1 and 2 milling varieties, which is also a specification required on the export markets. A milling sample testing 11.5% grown for yield and preferred disease resistance, can be a win:win for growers.
“There are a large number of countries which import wheat with 11.5% protein specification for milling. This gives the option of choosing varieties for yield and disease resistance profile which are less expensive and more profitable to grow.”
He sees future limitations in producing feed wheats for the export into Europe or onto the world market as other grains can be considerably cheaper and have better nutrition value.
“Growing something which someone wants to buy is paramount to success.”
Part of the problem is no-one really knows until the second day of harvest what the crop is going to be like in yield or quality terms, he says, adding yields were exceptionally good last year and created one of the biggest wheat export surpluses ever seen in the UK.
“Unfortunately with this surplus being of a ‘feed’ type, it has been difficult to place this weight of tonnage in a timely manner which has ultimately resulted in a collapse in market price.
“We need a balance in all types of wheat grown in the UK to prevent the market becoming skewed.”