There are currently 11 Group three varietieson the 2015/16 AHDB Recommended List, four of which have joined in the past twoyears, providing plenty of new options in a category that once accounted forhalf of the market, yet today represents just 1015 per cent.
UK soft wheat is quite unique and has alwaysattracted reasonably good premiums as theres such a diverse range of marketsit can go into, says flour miller, Bowmans Mark Isaacson.
After so much focus on Group 4 varieties inprevious years, it is great to see Group 3 varieties coming through, such asBritannia and Zulu, that can deliver higher yields and grain quality capable ofattracting a premium, yet arent expensive to grow.
Alongside domestic biscuit, cake making anddistilling markets, there is a strong export market for uks specification softwheat to Spain, Portugal and North Africa, says AHDB Cereals and Oilseedsemployee, Dorit Cohen.
Buyers in these countries struggle to matchthe quality characteristics of ukswheat from anywhere else. As the consumption of European-style biscuits isincreasing in Morocco and Algeria, were seeing demand for biscuit-qualitywheat slowly increasing.
Yield and quality
The array of Group three varieties can bedaunting, but Limagrain UK wheat breeder, Ron Granger says growers should focuson those capable of delivering high yields and grain with premium potential,especially as lower prices have squeezed margins.
At 104 per cent of control UK-wide, thehighest yielding Group three on the RL is newcomer Britannia, which sits justahead of next joint-highest yielder Zulu (102 per cent).
Britannia raised the bar for Group threeyields and is competitive with leading feed types, yet its biscuit/cake-makingand uks approval gives you thechance of a useful premium, typically 3-5/t, he says.
Although slightly behind Britannia for yield,Zulu, which traces its pedigree back to Group three stalwart Claire, offersdistilling approval to give an extra market option, especially for growers innorthern areas, he says.
There have been a lot of one hit wonders inthe Group three sector, but I think Zulu is different, Openfields Lee Bennettadds. Crucially, the millers say they like it. Millers want consistency andquality and arent going to change from proven varieties like Claire and Scoutfor the sake of it.
Tailored variety choice
While the proximity of local marketsinfluences variety choice, the traits of Zulu and Britannia are also key.
The two varieties are quite complementary andcould be grown on the same farm to spread risk, says Paul Taylor of PearceSeeds.
Being a Robigus cross, Britannia is quite astrong tillering variety that seems to do better when sown later on heavy landas second wheat. Zulu is a bit slower developing and has stiffer straw, so canbe drilled slightly earlier and on lighter land.
Britannia, as a first wheat, performsparticularly well in the east and growers considering it as a second orcontinuous wheat should not be deterred by the four rating for eyespot, as manycommercial varieties grown in this situation appear to have similar scores, MrGranger says. It offers strong disease resistance, especially to septoria andyellow rust and produces good specific weight.
Britannia is rated six for septoria, but Idsay its better than that, says Mr Taylor. In 2014 Alliance screening trialsunder high disease pressure in the southwest Britannia was the highest yieldingquality wheat, five per cent above controls Diego and Santiago.
Mr Granger acknowledges questions over thelodging rating of six, but insists standing power is better than this suggestsand can be enhanced with a split PGR programmeand tailored agronomy.
The first PGR should be applied as soon asstem elongation begins (growth stage 30) to keep the first node tight againstthe basal node, with the second application targeted at when the second nodemoves away from the first node (GS 31/32), he advises.
Apply the PGR before the first nitrogen andthen use a little and often approach to fertilizer to ensure healthy plantdevelopment right through the growing season.
Zulus earlier maturity than Britannia couldmake it a better option further north, Mr Granger continues, with theadditional option of the distilling market a key driver for the northern softwheat sector.
Mr Granger says neither variety is suitablefor early drilling and suggests Limagrain offer better varieties for thisoption, including Claire and Revelation.
Britannia and Zulu have good tilleringpotential, with Britannia suggesting a higher count, which is a valuable traitthat could allow possible reductions in seed rate to maximize yield and reduce lodging risk, he says.
Britannia is best suited to drilling from lateSeptember onwards, while Zulus slightly stiffer straw means it can go inslightly earlier (mid to late September), although drilling date for anyvariety is very dependent on where you are in the country (north v south) andlocal site conditions, he notes.
Zulu suits a range of soils, rotationalpositions and offers a good disease profile, with the added advantage ofresistance to orange wheat blossom midge and soil-borne cereal mosaic virus,says Mr Bennett.
Growers in areas prone to brown rust should beaware of Zulus 4 rating, although this is easily controllable with a robustfungicide programme, he says.
Britannia defies tricky start
The first season growing Britannia at SW HullFarms Ltd near Fareham in Hampshire has gone well so far, despite the cropbeing sown into challenging conditions.
Wet weather last autumn delayed drilling ofthe 18.6ha block after naked oats until the end of October and althoughestablishment was patchy at first the crop now looks strong and highlyvigoured, says Andrew Hull.
It wasnt the best start, but Britannia hasshone through and is doing well considering it was drilled in such marginalconditions.
Preceding oat stubbles were sprayed withglyphosate before the Grade 3 land, which is a mixture of heavy clay andlighter loam, was ploughed, power harrowed, drilled and rolled. The fertiliserand fungicide programme is shown below.
We dont necessarily make any allowance for[varietal] disease ratings when applying fungicides, although it does buy someleeway around the main timings, says Mr Hull, who hopes the crop will achievethe average wheat yield of 8.6-10t/ha (3.5-4t/acre). Its not 5t/acre ground,he notes.
Cropped area at SW Hull Farms is around 250ha,comprising first and second wheats, barley and oilseed rape, although somenaked oats are also grown, along with peas and beans as an alternative breakcrop.
The focus is on growing seed crops for PearceSeeds in the first wheat slot, with the main varieties this season beingSkyfall, Panorama and Britannia.
Looking ahead to next season Mr Hull says:Well repeat the Britannia as a second wheat for seed, but I do like it, so amtempted to try some commercially as well.