New high-yielding variety boosts optimism in UK soft wheat sector

With just five new varieties recommended for the 2024/25 season, 10 removed and a much-improved layout, the latest Recommended List (RL) for winter wheats has a cleaner, fresher look that should enable growers and agronomists to navigate their way more effectively through a maze of data towards an informed decision.

Bamford wheat

So says Procam’s UK head of crop production, Mike Thornton, who adds: “Despite a strong line-up of new winter wheats this year, the overall stand-out based on its yield, wide marketability, high specific weight and impressively consistent disease resistance ratings has to be Bamford.

Procam employee
Mike Thornton.

“With a treated yield of 106%, it’s 6% ahead of the next best Group 3 soft, and with an untreated yield of 92%, it has the second highest untreated yield on the entire winter wheat RL – regardless of classification.”

The new soft wheat, from independent breeder Elsoms Seeds, first caught Mike’s attention in NL1 trials following a tip-off from a colleague, Procam seed manager Lee Harker.

“I recall Bamford’s specific weight being over 78kg/hl in that first trial when most other wheats struggled to get close to that type of figure. The untreated Bamford plot looked incredibly clean and, with growers often looking for opportunities to lower agrichemical inputs, its 92% untreated score is a compelling figure on any variety’s CV. It’s undoubtedly the best Group 3 to come onto the RL in many years, but I believe growers should consider it, first and foremost, as a very high yielding wheat – not simply as a Group 3 biscuit wheat.

“Although there’s very little to separate Bamford and LG Beowulf on this year’s list, Bamford’s earlier maturity may well give it an agronomic edge with growers in the North,” suggests Mike.

Attraction in the south

For growers based in the south, Bamford’s higher yield when compared to almost all other winter wheats would be its greatest attraction, reckons Bartholomews seed manager, Christian Maltby. 

Bartholomews employee
Christian Maltby.

“Growing high-yielding Group 4 feed wheat in the south-east is often less favourable due to a lack of local feed homes and export interest. Assuming growers can grow Bamford to a minimum 11% protein, allied to its robust Hagberg and specific weight data, high-quality UK soft Group 3s like Bamford are highly marketable for export, due to a lack of Group 3 wheat being grown in other countries for the Iberian market.

 “With increasing costs of fertiliser, and the higher risk involved in pushing some varieties to achieve 13% protein, growing a Group 3 to achieve 11% protein would be a preferable option for some growers. As a merchant, we’re really looking forward to seeing how the variety performs on a larger scale and expect to see strong seed demand this autumn. Our longer-term expectation is that subsequent high-yielding Bamford wheat crops, grown to a specific minimum grain quality will increase the market share of planted Group 3s in the UK,” concludes Christian.

Growth in planted area

Frontier Agriculture seed business development manager, Jim Knightbraid, agrees with Christian’s view on the potential for future growth in the Group 3 planted area.

Frontier employee
Jim Knightbraid.

He says: “After a period of stagnation in Group 3 biscuit making varieties, Frontier were on the lookout for a new variety to rejuvenate the sector and bridge the yield gap between hard and soft wheat varieties. Bamford has always looked a good clean crop in Frontier trials and was the highest yielding variety in our harvest 2023 untreated trials across five Frontier replicated trials sites. Those positive trial results, along with Bamford’s flexibility to be grown successfully across different geographies and within different farming systems, made our eventual decision to place significant seed crops of Bamford for autumn 2024 availability a relatively straightforward one.

“We think Bamford looks well equipped for earlier drilling dates, which will appeal to growers following some serious crop establishment challenges in 2023. It’s straw strength and moderate speed of development in the autumn make it well-suited to earlier drilling, particularly in the north of England and Scotland where September drilling dates are preferred. Bamford also offers a fast speed of development in the spring and has an erect growth habit. Two significant agronomic characteristics that will help it to outcompete higher grassweed burdens – a key problem for UK wheat growers during the last two seasons.

“It has been a long time since we’ve seen a variety on the RL with a 6% yield advantage over the next best in its group. Bamford has the potential to revitalise the Group 3 sector, and I believe it signals a landmark change for the UK soft wheat sector, outperforming current market leading soft variety LG Skyscraper.

“On grain quality, we’ve seen a number of top yielding wheats in recent years that couldn’t quite combine high yield with high bushel weight. Bamford’s specific weight of 78.5kg/hl represents a real step up in this area, given that it is higher than any of the currently recommended Group 3 and soft Group 4 varieties,” concludes Jim.

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