FRONTIER Agriculture’s annual round of Northern meetings last month (February) focused on moving forward following the challenging autumn planting conditions.

The company’s Jim Knight estimated that as much as 30 per cent of 2019 autumn wheat seed in the North was still in the barn and his main message was for growers to avoid “turning one season’s difficulties into a multi-year problem.

“There was a wide variation between individual farmers and their ability to achieve a successful drilling outcome,” said Mr Knight, Frontier’s seed business development manager.

“However, many encountered problems and there is no doubt that output from harvest 2020 is going to be compromised.

“The opportunity sits with the 2021 harvest, so it is important to maximise that opportunity.

“My advice is to try and reduce the risk of getting caught in a cycle of late harvests, leading to late drilling. That means avoiding further damage to soils which could affect sowing conditions for the coming autumn.

“But I feel that maximising the winter wheat acreage is still the best way to optimise financial returns within the rotation.”

When choosing winter wheats for this season, he advised growers to limit their main selections to those with a score of 6.0 or above for septoria resistance.

Varieties with this rating had out-yielded their rivals at Frontier’s Driffield and Stokesley sites, he said.

In trials, the top four varieties all had a septoria resistance score of 6.4-plus and they produced yields ranging from 12.2 to 12.6t/ha.

These included the group two milling variety, KWS Extase, which has a septoria rating of 8.1, as well as SY Insitor. The older varieties, Graham and Shabras, also featured in the list of best performers.

Mr Knight stressed the importance of taking into consideration a variety’s long-term consistency of performance.

“Assessing a variety over a period of three years and across seven sites takes out the variation which can be experienced from year-to-year,” he said.

“When these factors are taken into account, Gleam stands out from the others.

“It had a 105 per cent yield, which is two points above the rest. Merchant sales figures also reflect its qualities and it has been our most popular among farmers. Other consistent varieties that are worth a mention in this context include KWS Extase and Graham.”

It was understandable that many Northern producers would opt for tried and tested winter wheat varieties for the coming season, due to the disappointing autumn of 2019, said Mr Knight. Nevertheless, he highlighted the newcomer, KWS Parkin, which he described as a “potential replacement for Grafton”.

“KWS Parkin excelled in the North of England. It brings features that have rarely been seen among new varieties over the past few years.

“It is early-maturing and has shorter and stiffer straw compared with any other variety on the 2020 Recommended List (RL), although the variety itself just failed to make the List after falling slightly short on yield figures.

“I believe that the advantages of early harvesting and strong straw outweigh the potential loss of a couple of yield percentage points; it has a production figure of 103 per cent.”

While SY Insitor produced excellent yields, it was a tall variety with a 6/7 score for lodging and therefore its straw was potentially a weak point. It was a hard group four with an excellent specific weight.

Meanwhile, KWS Kinetic was another high-yielder, although it had a degree of disease susceptibility and Mr Knight classified it as “high input/high output”, designed for the high-volume feed market.

RGT Saki also stood out, but it was the late yielding and possibly less suitable for the North compared with some of the other contenders.

It suited the main drilling window and had potential for the distilling market.

“We also have to consider seed availability for 2020 autumn sowing,” said Mr Knight.

“It is still unclear exactly how much seed remains in storage from last year and these stocks may help to make up a possible shortage caused by the reduction in planting,” he added.

“But it seems likely that seed supply will be under pressure and I would urge growers to make their selections in good time and place orders early, if they are to secure their first choice of varieties.”

The wheat trials results also pointed to the benefits of using the seed treatment, Vibrance Duo (fludioxonil + sedaxane), he added. Plants that had received the product showed visibly faster establishment, with larger shoots and roots.

It had proved a worthwhile return on investment at a cost of £10/ha.

In the barley trials, the six-row hybrids continued to outperform conventional varieties, said Mr Knight.

“The six-rows are highly vigorous and therefore offer flexibility; they can be drilled later compared with conventional types,” said Mr Knight.

“They are high-yielding and very attractive, particularly for the northern climate. The top performer in our trials was SY Kingsbarn.”