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High yielding Group 4 wheats with strong all round resilience and versatility will remain the most consistently profitable crops over the next five years,...

As harvest 2022 nears, breeders say high performance Group 4 varieties are increasingly important

High yielding Group 4 wheats with strong all round resilience and versatility will remain the most consistently profitable crops over the next five years, says James Webster of farm business consultants Andersons.

Such varieties will be the backbone of future rotations as the implications of higher energy and input costs start to bite and the drive to cut back on agrochemical use continues, he believes.

“It’s difficult to see how the main input costs can come down significantly anytime soon – the drivers behind these are pretty well established and mostly linked to energy and gas prices.

“The majority are not traded as openly as grain, so they are not subject to the usual volatility associated with commodities.

“But the high prices we are currently seeing for wheat could track downwards as the world’s supply situation, hopefully, settles down after the current Ukraine and Russia situation.”

The result is a narrowing of margins. While current higher prices for grain will help insulate growers to a degree in this year, 2023 and 2024 will be the years it really starts to bite, especially as there will be a 50% reduction in direcy payments in 2024.

Three key features

The three stand-out features of a variety suited to such scenarios are high outright yield, optimum Nitrogen efficiency and good untreated yields underpinned by robust disease resistances, says Mr Webster.

“High yield potential is still a key requirement as this sets the benchmark for production and it’s not just about tonnes either. High specific weight is increasingly important as is protein content. 

“But high yield potential by itself without the additional traits needed to protect it in the increasingly challenging growing conditions we’re all facing, is unlikely to be sufficient.”

Nitrogen efficiency is also going to be increasingly important, especially with the recent price hikes showing little signs of abating, Mr Webster adds.

“Vigour, root system, straw strength and disease resistance all contribute to N-efficiency, so again a variety with a full feature set in these areas is likely to be the most Nitrogen efficient option in the future.”

Strong disease resistance and high untreated yields finish off the three key features, says Mr Webster.

“High untreated yields are a good indicator of a variety’s overall resilience but they are also key when trying to use agrochemicals more effectively, as we will have to in the future as environmental legislation increases and available chemistry becomes less.

“Strong disease resistance is not just about cutting back on agronomic inputs though, it also gives you a safety net if you can’t spray at exactly the right time – which could increasingly be the case with the effects climate change.”

Solid agronomics

Kirsty Richards of KWS agrees. Such thinking lies very much behind the company’s Sowing for Peak Performance (SPP) initiative, she says. “You only have to look at the new Group 4 hard feed wheat KWS Dawsum to see such thinking in action.

“It’s got a yield potential 104% of control in the current RL and an outstanding specific weight of 79.4kg/hl which will be of real interest to many growers following the poor specific weights of 2021.”

But while the variety’s treated yield is pretty spectacular, it also has an untreated yield of 92% of control so it’s going to appeal to a wide range of growers with different production systems.

“This is underpinned by resistance scores of 9 for yellow rust, an 8 for mildew and a 7 for brown rust.

“Furthermore, KWS Dawsum delivers to its full potential across the rotation regardless of heavy or light soil, early of later drilling and whether it’s in a first or second wheat slot. It’s a real work horse with short, stiff straw further adding to its reliability.”

KWS Cranium is another strong RL-listed player in the Group 4 hard wheat sector and a great example of an SPP variety, says Dr Richards.

“Recommended for the whole of the UK, it ticks all the boxes for features of high or very high importance in modern wheat production.

“It’s got an impressive combination of performance and agronomics with a yield of 102% of control, an 8 for Yellow Rust resistance, 8s for lodging performance, both with and without PGRs, plus a 5.9 for Septoria resistance.

“Additional features such as Orange Wheat Blossom Midge (OWBM) resistance and high yields in the second wheat and late drilling slots underline its class-leading resilience in the face of current wheat production challenges.”