The dominance of Group 4 ‘barn-fillers’ being grown in the UK could be about to change
The dominance of Group 4 ‘barn-fillers’ being grown in the UK could be about to change as new, high yielding quality wheats become available for growers this autumn. Dominic Kilburn writes.
With a surplus in UK feed wheat stocks proving hard to shift and the market price seemingly going nowhere, growers in this country are being urged to change direction away from the trend of growing Group 4 ‘barn-filling’ feed wheats and look to a new wave of high yielding, quality wheats to secure better marketing opportunities and boost on-farm profits for the future.
That was the main message from plant breeding company KWS, which officially launched its wheat newcomers KWS Lili and KWS Trinity last month under the ‘Dynamic Wheats’ brand – essentially varieties that combine high yields and good agronomic performance with milling premium potential.
According to KWS, UK wheat growers have become too reliant on growing high yielding feed wheat varieties over the past eight years or so; responding to high demand for Group 4 wheats targeted as feed or for the promised domestic bioethanol markets. “Group 4 barn-fillers have, in the past, been the most profitable option for many UK growers,” said KWS commercial director Andrew Newby, speaking at the event in London. “But things are now changing fast and we have to focus more on what the end-user, or a country, really wants,” he stressed.
“In a way, it’s like going back to the future,” continued Mr Newby. “Back in 2005 UK wheat production was focused into the quality markets for domestic food and export. At that time, quality wheats such as Claire and Einstein were among the highest yielding on the Recommended List, while also offering good marketability.”
Posing the question as to what was wanted from varieties in 2015, Mr Newby said that an ideal combination of marketability and yield was key for those producing them, using them and advising on them. “For the farmer, he wants high yield, good agronomics and added value from his varieties; for the grain trader he wants end user demand, high yield and good physical grain quality; for the agronomist, he wants good agronomics, manageable risk and high yield.
“Dynamic Wheats have the ideal combinations that fit all requirements,” he added.
Huge variabilityAlso at the event was milling firm Heygates director George Mason. He said that the current wheat price was being dragged down by the price of maize, which UK feed wheat exports had to compete with and, at times of surplus, it was a “race to the bottom” in terms of price.
He suggested that the UK was tarnished with being a feed wheat supplier onto the European market where, in some years, quality was good and in other years not so good, while swings in production and exportable surplus could vary greatly in a short period of time. “There are tremendous opportunities to supply markets such as Egypt where the demand for wheat is huge, but we are not going to do it with Group 4 feed wheats,” he highlighted.
“All of a sudden the UK is having to fight for price and relationships and we want the grower to know that he can sell his wheat and there’s no reason why he can’t sell his Group 1s and 2s with a fall-back situation prior to harvest.”
According to Mr Mason, Heygates is currently evaluating Group 1 provisional KWS Trinity as part of nabim’s process in granting the variety full Group 1 status.
“There’s not a big drop in yield from the highest yielding Group 4s to that of Trinity or Group 2 Lili and, as well as having good yields, these varieties have good disease resistance. The yield gap between milling and feed varieties is getting smaller and if the farmer can get a premium, then he’ll be happy.
“We must all help drive the want for change – through time, market dynamics have changed and we must all learn to adapt,” he added.
Change of mindsetGrowing Trinity and other Group 1 varieties like Skyfall needs a change of mindset, said KWS’ Keith Best. Protein dilution needs to be taken into account and nitrogen managed accordingly, he pointed out. “Higher yielding milling wheat varieties will require additional fertiliser compared with those they are replacing. There’s no magical solution or guarantees for producing a 12t/ha crop at 13 per cent protein, but it’s about timing of nitrogen application and what the crop wants,” said Mr Best, highlighting that the HGCA milling wheat management guidelines (2009) state that crop N demand for milling wheat is 25kg/expected tonne to be available to the crop.
Farmer viewAndrew Read is a partner in farming and agricultural contracting company MF Read & Sons, based at Depden, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Having learned more about Dynamic Wheats at the briefing, and the potential they may offer, he said he would be trying them on the farm this autumn – KWS Lili replacing Santiago in the main. “About half our wheat is for milling and half for feed but if I can grow Lili it will give me a greater opportunity in terms of finding customers and getting a premium.
“The feed wheat price is so low at the moment and so anything that you can do to add value to a crop is important,” he explained.
“The fact that wheat yields seem to be flat-lining is a worry, and, with input costs going up all the time we need to look at different opportunities. As long as the costs of growing a crop like Lili stack up, then it’ll be worth it, although getting 13 per cent protein is a difficult target on a 12t/ha crop of wheat,” pointed out Mr Read, who added that growers will still require good technical feedback and advice to get the most out of new varieties like this.
“We’ll definitely grow Lili this autumn and we’ll also probably try Trinity as a replacement for Gallant,” he concluded
Dynamic Wheats Recommended as a provisional Group 1 while awaiting final results of nabim milling tests (expected soon), KWS Trinity has a treated yield similar to Skyfall although yielding higher in the east. Short, stiff strawed, good resistance to lodging and earliness equal to Crusoe, it is one of the highest yielding varieties on the RL in early sown HGCA trials. It can be drilled from 7th September onwards, says KWS.
The variety’s grain quality includes a Hagberg of 337, specific weight 77.1kg/hl and protein 11.4 per cent.
According to KWS, Trinity is robust in difficult harvesting conditions which means there’s a better chance of maintaining milling quality.
Disease characteristics are a step forward compared with other Group 1 wheats – mildew 9, yellow and brown rust 9 and 8 respectively and fusarium 7, adds the company.
KWS predicts Trinity to achieve a 4.5 per cent market share this autumn.
In HGCA RL treated yield trials, Group 2 KWS Lili matches Santiago in terms of yield and is marginally behind Group 4 top yielders Reflection and Evolution. In the key wheat growing areas of the east, Lili yields only 1 per cent behind Reflection.
Lili is short, and shouldn’t lodge, says KWS and comes with a good all round disease package – a solid yellow rust (7), at the higher end of wheat varieties showing good resistance to septoria tritici (6) and mildew (9).
With good grain quality (Hagberg 281, Specific weight 76.5kg/hl, protein 11.1 per cent) and suitable for milling, feed and export, KWS suggests that Lili will have a six per cent share of the UK wheat market in autumn 2015, predominantly taking share from the Group 4s and, potentially, 12 per cent of the market in autumn 2017.