Late drilling window still open – but correct variety choice is crucial to success

For those who have opted to delay drilling their wheats this season, be it for black-grass management, being in a second wheat situation, for those who are drilling wheat after

Limagrain’s Ron Granger.

For those who have opted to delay drilling their wheats this season, be it for black-grass management, being in a second wheat situation, for those who are drilling wheat after sugar beet or potatoes, or even those growers who have been forced into this slot due to the weather, it’s important to consider the specific challenges this poses to the crop, says Limagrain UK’s arable technical manager, Ron Granger.

“Delayed or late drilling of winter wheat, considered to occur from mid-October onwards, is common practice on farms today. However, as autumn progresses and soils inevitably become cooler and wetter, it is important to make a distinction by choosing varieties that will cope well rather than be challenged by the situation,” he says.

“Get it wrong, and you could be facing fairly substantial yield penalties – but this is all totally avoidable.”

“Crops drilled later will not be in the ground as long as those drilled earlier in the autumn, so the chosen variety needs to establish well and once growing conditions are favourable in the spring, needs to be quick off the blocks.”

Characteristics of wheats that suit the late drilling slot are strong tillering and vigorous, combined with good rooting attributes, and a semi prostrate growth habit in the winter, describes Mr Granger.

“This is especially important where black-grass is present, as you need a variety that will compete with its rapid growth rather than sit and tiller flat to the ground where it may eventually become smothered by the black-grass.”

“The theory is not complicated, and this is why certain varieties like LG Skyscraper suit the black-grass situation.”

Limagrain carries out trials looking at which varieties better suit the later-drilled slot. “This is valuable information for growers, especially when also considering limited AHDB data sets.”

In Limagrain’s 2019 trials, LG Skyscraper, which is the highest yielder on the 2019/20 AHDB Recommended List, outperforming everything else this summer, is the highest performing variety in the late drilled slot. In fact, the variety has shown itself to take this poll position over three very different seasons, points out Mr Granger.

“LG Skyscraper ticks a lot of boxes for on-farm performance and is an excellent choice for the second wheat situation.”

Ron’s advice is where a grower wants to put in a quality wheat after roots, which is not an uncommon approach especially for quality wheat growers, Group 2’s LG Detroit is a good option.

“The significant thing about LG Detroit is that it is stiff strawed and comes with orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) resistance. The added value characters of high inherent protein content, from its parent Crusoe, and good fusarium resistance are also valuable assets for a quality wheat.”

“However, with the variety’s high vernalisation requirement, growers need to be aware that it should be drilled before the end of January.”

“Our agronomy work suggests that LG Detroit benefits from a higher seed rate if sown later in the season, as the variety does tend to drop tillers in the spring if in a stress situation, e.g. drought scenario.”

LG Spotlight also demonstrates attributes for the late drilling scenario, with good tillering and quicker speed of development in the spring, and again in trials has shown itself to be competitive for yield against well established commercial varieties grown in this situation, Mr Granger adds.

“The key attribute of LG Spotlight is its “security of grain quality” – that is a high stable Hagberg with a good specific weight that does not deteriorate when harvest is difficult, as seen in this season.”

Mr Granger highlights data from several seasons of work from Limagrain, that suggests that taller wheats, such as LG Skyscraper, are at an advantage in the later drilling scenario, because larger plant canopies also play an important role in keeping black-grass ear numbers and seed return to the minimum.

“In a black-grass or second wheat situation, LG Skyscraper would be my first choice variety over LG Spotlight or LG Detroit – it just appears to have a bit more vigour and resilience in these circumstances.”

Seed rates

Mr Granger points out that one of the single most important factors in getting a late drilled crop off to a good start is to use the correct seed rate.

“Seed rates after the end of October are difficult to quantify specifically, as they will be more determined by the seasonal weather and seedbed preparation, at the time of drilling.”

“Generally, seed rates should be increased the further drilling moves towards the winter months, to compensate for the impact on tillering, as a result of cooler temperatures and shorter days.”

“In good conditions in early November, the target should be a seed rate of 375-400 seeds/m2, increasing to 400-475 seeds/m2 at later drill dates, or in a black-grass or poor seedbed situation.”

“Growers should also choose varieties with a good disease resistance profile – certainly against mildew, as this can be problematic on some soil types in the late drilled situation.”

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