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Wheat varieties are becoming more robust and resilient – although concern remains that some crops lodge too easily and quality could be be More sustainable varieties make wheat choice easier

A new tool is helping growers choose the most appropriate wheat varieties.

Wheat varieties are becoming more robust and resilient – although concern remains that some crops lodge too easily and quality could be better.

The sustainability of mainstream varieties has improved encouragingly in just two years, suggests the latest Agrii Advisory List. But there are worrying concerns when it comes to specific weights and lodging.

Updated regularly throughout the season, the Wheat Advisory List is independent from the official AHDB Recommended List. It contains additional analysis and data from Agrii’s own variety testing programme.

The list includes Variety Sustainability Ratings for wheat options offering the greatest all-round agronomic strength with the least production risk and environmental impact.

“The number of wheats available with a high sustainability rating has more than tripled from seven to 24,” says Agrii seed technical manager John Miles. “This is really encouraging progress in a very short time.”

Ratings for the 39 wheat varieties on Agrii’s 2022 advisory list were calculated from their scores for 12 key characteristics. The idea is to provide an unbiased way of comparing their overall robustness and resilience of the available genetics, says Mr Miles.

“They help growers and our agronomists narrow down their initial choices from the plethora of varieties on offer.”

Some 69% of varieties now have an Agrii yellow rust resistance score of 7.5 or more, with 31% having a brown rust resistance score of 6 or more and 49% having a Septoria resistance score of 6 or more. But it is more of a mixed picture with lodging.

Lodging resistance

“Back in 2020 we rated 32% of the varieties as 8 or more for treated lodging resistance but this has dropped to 21%,” says Mr Miles. On the other hand, however, there are fewer varieties with scores of 6 or less.

“While we need to watch this area of genetics carefully, overall the omens aren’t too bad here. Unfortunately, this is not the case with specific weights which we see as one of the biggest concerns in wheats these days.

“Almost half the varieties on our 2020 Advisory List had AHDB specific weights of 77kg/hl or more and only just over 20% were less than 76. In complete contrast, this year less than a third are up at 77kg/hl-plus and over a third below 76.”

Rate of progress

With the exception of specific weights, Mr Miles says he is hugely heartened by rate of progress plant breeders have been making in so many different components of wheat variety sustainability in recent years.

Even insisting on a high sustainability variety only cuts the field for 2022 planting down from 39 to 24 wheats and still gives plenty enough choice in every NABIM Group for most growing situations, he explains.

“The ratings are just a starting point, of course, and it’s vital to
base your choice on exactly where a variety’s particular strengths and weaknesses lie for your conditions,” says Mr Miles.

“The right agronomy can easily deal with weaknesses in a wheat’s yellow rust susceptibility or protect a parentage suggesting greater risk of breakdown to strains of the disease currently circulating.

“Less-than-ideal resistance to Septoria, brown rust and stem strength are equally manageable – but only if they are clearly recognised from the outset, so drilling dates, fertiliser regimes and crop protection programmes can be tailored accordingly.”