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Spring wheat is enjoying a resurgence with more growers turning to the crop after difficult sowing conditions for winter varieties and concern over spring... Careful management of spring wheat pays dividends

Spring wheat is enjoying a resurgence with more growers turning to the crop after difficult sowing conditions for winter varieties and concern over spring barley margins.

While many growers made a move to spring barley after being enticed by the prospect of a significant premium for meeting a traditional 1.85% nitrogen malting specification, few considered the potential implications, says Agrii’s Tom Land.

“Growers bought into the lure of premiums and promises that it was cheap to grow, yet a lot of spring barley grown in a black-grass situation goes as feed, unless on a specialist high nitrogen contract.”

The discount for feed barley can be between £8 and £30/t. Mr Land said reality was sinking in and many growers were beginning to question their chances of reliably achieving a 1.85% nitrogen premium specification.

“For some the pressure at drilling is equally unrewarding,” he said. “Modern spring wheats are at least a match for spring barley and, depending on the season, often out do it. They are strong contenders.”

Important choice

John Miles, of seed breeders KWS, said spring wheat could have an increasingly important role – but he emphasises that variety choice remains critical.

“Spring vigour is perhaps the most important feature, but this should not come at the expense of grain yield and quality. Strong tillering varieties such as KWS Extase and KWS Cranium usually out-yield less vigorous varieties.

“Specific spring sowing varieties such as KWS Cochise and KWS Chilham have the ‘get up and go’ to compete strongly with weeds plus good all round disease resistance and OWMB resistance.

“Being a Group 2 wheat, KWS Cochise has additional marketing opportunities too, which can add significantly to the overall gross margin of these crops.”

According to David Towse of CF Fertilisers, getting the most out of the crop relies on sticking with a few basic principles most of which relate to the reduced length of time the crop has in the ground.

“With a much shorter growing window than winter wheat, establishment is a vital part of maximising the potential of the crop with careful seedbed preparation, selecting the best time to drill and optimum crop nutrition being the key management decisions.

“Retaining moisture by moving the surface as little as possible in the spring is the best way to think about spring cultivations.

“Crops that grow away quickly will have an early competitive advantage against blackgrass and stronger plants will be in a better place to cope if conditions revert to colder weather later on.”