New Group 3 wheats offer greater soft wheat security

The Group 3 biscuit wheat sector has become increasingly crowded in recent years as several new varieties have joined the AHDB Recommended List. But, of the new and existing options, there are two stand-out favourites for sowing this autumn, according to Ron Granger of Limagrain UK.

©Tim Scrivener Photographer 07850 303986.

LG Astronomer and LG Illuminate both joined the RL in 2021, and have quickly gained a significant share of the Group 3 sector, as growers look for market flexibility and extra security following several challenging seasons for septoria and rust control.

LG Astronomer already accounts for more than 30% of the biscuit wheat market and offers one of the most complete agronomic packages available, with a yield comparable to others in this group and suitability for biscuit making and distilling, Mr Granger says. “Yield-wise, there aren’t massive differences between any of the biscuit varieties, so growers have to look at other agronomic attributes.”

This is where the Limagrain varieties have an advantage above the competition, and it is worth looking at the varieties in more detail.

Strong genes

Both LG Astronomer and LG Illuminate are the same pedigree and offer multi-gene resistance from the (Leeds x Cougar) x Britannia parentage.

Three-way crosses proved their worth in 2021, when septoria hit many other varieties hard – especially the two-way cross Cougar derivatives – resulting in RL scores being downgraded.

LG Astronomer’s three-year rating only dropped slightly to 6.8 though, thereby retaining its position as one of the highest on the RL’s three-year and one-year ratings. LG Illuminate does have a lower rating of 6 (based on the three-year data set), but that is still respectable and better than many varieties in the group, Mr Granger says.

“Within the Group 3 biscuit sector, the newer Limagrain varieties, especially LG Astronomer, have really upped the game against septoria compared with older commercial varieties, such as KWS Barrel and Elicit [rated 4.3 and 4.9 respectively].”

He recognises some growers may be wary of varieties that have Cougar parentage, given the experiences last year, but insists Cougar derivatives supported by multiple genes still offer a real step-change in disease resistance. Indeed, the only Group 3 with a slightly higher septoria score than LG Astronomer is also a Cougar derivative, while two other new Group 3s based on different genetics, offer little improvement over Elicit and KWS Barrel, he says.

Benefits beyond septoria

While septoria resistance is a key consideration, yellow rust is also a significant concern for many growers.

LG Astronomer’s seedling resistance to yellow rust is another benefit of stacking multiple genes and Cougar parentage, helping the variety achieve RL scores of 8 for yellow and brown rust, Mr Granger notes.

“The Warrior race of yellow rust, in particular, is very aggressive and constantly evolving, so we know varieties cannot rely on single gene resistance. The more resistance genes a variety has stacked, the more security it offers.”

Such security is evident in the high untreated yields achieved by new Limagrain varieties in AHDB, Limagrain and independent trials. Indeed, LG Astronomer and LG Illuminate have the highest untreated yields of all biscuit wheats at 86% and 84% of control respectively; performance that has been repeated in other trials that are more representative of the commercial fungicide programmes used in farm situations.

Mr Granger acknowledges some growers may want to use this security to reduce crop protection inputs, but cautions against doing so, especially at current grain prices when the risks of compromising control far outweigh the cost of an effective spray programme.

“Why take the risk of cutting fungicides when wheat is at £300/t? Selecting strong genetics is the number one consideration for tackling septoria and rust, but that must be combined with a programmed approach to fungicides. There’s got to be a synergy between genetic resistance and chemistry. Many new SDHI fungicides also offer worthwhile physiological benefits to crop health and greening that go beyond disease control, and are actually of use for enhancing nitrogen utilisation and efficiency.”

Protecting grain quality

Having the flexibility to supply either biscuit making or distilling markets is a key attribute of LG Astronomer and LG Illuminate, with the latter also offering uks export potential.

Both varieties have very good specific weight, and importantly, they also feature the best resistance to sprouting of all Group 3s, with both varieties rated 7 on the RL. Mr Granger says this is a key attribute for soft wheats, especially in seasons or regions where harvest weather is more unsettled, which increases the risk of damp, and ripe grain starting to sprout, therefore, forfeiting quality.

“Resistance to sprouting is a good trait to look for in any soft wheat variety. It served growers well last season, protecting quality in what was a very testing harvest weather-wise.”

Likewise, LG Astronomer’s stiff straw gives it the highest resistance to lodging on the RL (rated 9 with a PGR), providing growers with added security in their ability to protect yield and quality in more challenging seasons.

Both LG Astronomer and LG Illuminate have also shown the right agronomics for the earlier drilling scenario, with promising yield results in this testing situation. Additionally, they both have orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) resistance, which is a valuable genetic trait, especially in the South and South East regions.

East Anglian grower trial

Suffolk farmer Chris Chaplin, of JE Chaplin and Partners, Hill Farm, Nedging, is growing a trial 5ha area of LG Astronomer for the first time this year, as he seeks
a new soft wheat option for the farm next season.

Quality wheats are central to the 364ha of predominantly heavy land combinable cropping, which includes spring barley, oats, OSR and beans.

“We’ve got a good-sized grain store on the farm, but it’s not partitioned off, so our focus is on just growing two main wheat varieties that we can separate fairly easily,” Mr Chaplin says.

This season, those varieties include home-saved soft Group 4 LG Skyscraper and Group 3 KWS Firefly, alongside the trial area of LG Astronomer – seed for which was purchased through Framlingham-based Walnes Seeds.

Providing LG Astronomer lives up to expectations and early promise this season, Mr Chaplin plans to put 80–90ha of the variety into the first wheat slot this coming autumn, with LG Skyscraper grown as a second wheat and KWS Firefly likely to be dropped from the rotation.

Mr Chaplin says his father, John, who sadly passed away in March, always took responsibility for variety choices on the farm, and selected LG Astronomer for a number of reasons. Yield, grain quality, marketability and disease resistance are key factors, but so too are its resistance to lodging and sprouting.

“Nobody wants a flat crop at harvest, and sprouting is always a consideration when growing any soft wheats. We’ve seen with other varieties in the past, how a couple of damp days around harvest can soon cause issues with grain starting to grow in the ear.”

A minimum-tillage establishment system is used across the farm, with crops usually drilled after one or two passes with a Kockerling tine cultivator or Vaderstad TopDown. This season’s area of LG Astronomer was sown around 20th October. “We’ve got black-grass on the farm, so nothing is drilled too early,” he notes.

Mr Chaplin recognises that Group 3s do not offer quite the same yield potential as many ‘barn-filling’ Group 4s, however that is made up for by the milling premium available on biscuit wheats.

“Generally, we tend to get anywhere between £5–12/t premium, depending on the season and the merchant, which does make it worthwhile. However, we wouldn’t want anything less than this and it
is frustrating there can be so much variation in the premium, even within the same season.”

Mr Chaplin concludes: “LG Astronomer has established very well and, like all of our wheats, looks very good at the moment, with not too much disease around. Hopefully crops will do well, come harvest.”

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