The highest yielding wheat on the Recommended List looks certain to become the dominant variety grown on a Suffolk farm
The highest yielding wheat on the Recommended List looks certain to become the dominant variety grown on a Suffolk farm where seed crops and breeding sows are key to the success of the enterprise. Dominic Kilburn writes.
It’s quite unusual to find an arable farmer who is relatively content at the current and somewhat depressed level of grain prices, however, Alys Thompson, who farms with her husband Graham as PC Kindred & Son, Crabbes Farm, Parham in east Suffolk, is one of them.
The couple farm about 450ha (1,100 acres) of arable crops in all, including wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape and perennial ryegrass (all for seed), sugar beet and vining peas. In addition to the cropping the business is responsible for 300 breeding sows and followers.
According to Alys, who juggles day-to-day life bringing up three young children with running a busy farming enterprise, pigs are the biggest part of the business and feed costs were down by as much as #100,000 last year, compared with the year before, as a direct result of low commodity prices.
“On the flip side, we receive less for our wheat seed crops but, generally speaking, lower wheat prices are better for our business,” she adds.
Reflection was the top yielding winter wheat on the farm in 2014 and Alys Thompson is looking forward to seeing how the variety performs as a second wheat this harvest.
Alys’ father began growing wheat as a seed crop many years ago, she explains, and the farm’s storage is very much geared towards that system. “We have a lot of small grain store ‘compartments’ which suits segregation of different varieties. We have 20 storage bays, each with capacity for varying amounts from 110-250t,” she comments.
“Growing wheat crops for seed continues to suit us. We grow basic and pre-basic seed, so the premium is worthwhile. When commodity prices are low, as at present, the seed premium makes a proportionally greater contribution to the sale price.
“And we make a point of going all out for yield each season as we know that in any given year, some of it will end up going for pig feed.”
Reflection combines stand out yield with early maturity.
Farming chalky/heavy boulder clay, the business grows about 11 different winter wheat varieties for seed across the 4 nabim groups, including KWS Kielder, Leeds, KWS Trinity and JB Diego, and Alys says that it is useful to get experience of the new varieties before they become commercially available.
The long-term wheat yield average on the farm is 11.3t/ha.
In 2013, for the first time, Alys and Graham drilled 22ha (54 acres) of Syngenta’s promising hard feed Candidate variety Reflection. Just over a year later it entered the HGCA’s Recommended List as the top yielding variety across all the nabim groups at 107 per cent of controls.
According to Syngenta, the variety breaks the normal mould of being a ‘high yielder’ by combining its stand out yield with early maturity. Reflection is two or three days earlier ripening on the HGCA RL than some other varieties with lower yields.
In addition, the company says that the variety has very good grain quality (77.4 kg/hl), resistance to lodging of ‘8’ (with a PGR) because of its short and stiff straw, as well as a good disease resistance profile.
“In 2013 we drilled it in early October following early lifted sugar beet and ryegrass,” points out Alys. “Soil conditions that season were very good and average yields on the farm were 12.1t/ha. However Reflection yielded impressively above that at 13.3t/ha,” she says.
“It’s visually shorter than other varieties and we noticed that even where there had been fertiliser overlaps it stood very well without lodging. It did get a split dose PGR programme along with all the other wheats and so it had help standing up, as they all did, but some varieties fell over,” she explains.
“In autumn 2014 we drilled it in mid-September as a second wheat after the previous crop of Reflection and I have to say it is looking very promising again as we head into summer.”
Alys says that the variety hasn’t had to be managed differently from any other high yielding feed wheat variety on the farm – Reflection receiving a standard fertiliser programme in 2014 according to expected yield; ie 270kg N/ha in 4-splits of bagged nitrogen with the first application in March of that year.
Likewise, in what was a very high disease pressure season in 2014, it received a standard fungicide programme (see above). “We had to apply Centaur (cyproconazole) that season to some other varieties ahead of the T0s as a reactionary spray to get on top of yellow rust which was showing very early, although not in Reflection.”
With orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) resistance also part of the variety’s agronomic portfolio, Alys says this is another worry off her mind as it can be a big issue in that part of Suffolk.
Although early maturity is not the most important factor for Alys in terms of her wheats, she concedes that during the bumper harvest of 2014, Reflection’s quickness to ripen was beneficial. “Wheat maturity is not a massive issue for us because combining the grass at that stage of the season takes precedence and the wheats have to wait!
“If you don’t get the grass in when it’s ready then it will go to ground,” she stresses.
“As it turned out, we had the Reflection harvested, sold and moved off farm while we were combining the remainder of the wheats, and, because of the big yields last year, it did help with the overall storage capacity we had remaining on farm.
“So we saw first-hand how it can help to spread workloads,” she adds.
With most of the high yielding Group 4 feed wheats on the farm grown in the second wheat slot, Alys says that she is looking forward to seeing how the variety performs this harvest, before making final decisions on autumn plantings. “Usually one variety on the farm becomes the dominant one for feed; in the past this was Oakley, and is currently Kielder, but that position could be taken by Reflection later this year,” she concludes.
2014 wheat fungicide programmeT0 Cortez (epoxiconazole) + Bravo (chlorothalonil)T1 Vertisan (penthiopyrad) + Fielder (chlorothalonil + proquinazid)T2 Adexar (epoxiconazole + fluxapyroxad) + Bravo + CortezT3 Proline (prothioconazole) + Orius (prochloraz + tebuconazole)
Crabbes Farm Facts200ha (494 acres) winter wheat40ha (100 acres) sugar beet30ha (74 acres) winter barley30ha oilseed rape100ha (250 acres) of perennial ryegrass 300 breeding sows and followers