SPREADING the wheat harvest risk by evaluating maturity ratings in some of the newer feed wheat varieties this year, could be a way forward for arable farmers.

The newcomers offer a wider choice of maturity characteristics and the chance to find a combination that helps spread risk next harvest, according to SRUC’s cereal variety expert, Steve Hoad.

He said that in the south and east, growers could use late maturity to chase extra yield, while in the west and north early varieties will help avoid poor harvest conditions later in the summer.

With the possibility of both early and late-maturing varieties being hit with wet weather, a spread of maturity will also hedge bets and, in most seasons, ensure at least one crop is cut in good weather.

In addition, early maturing varieties that tiller, flower and ripen sooner can be useful on light land where dry and stressful conditions can cut the potential of later

How is maturity scored?

On the AHDB Recommended List, ripening is expressed as days earlier or later than a control variety and in the case of winter wheat, this is feed variety JB Diego.

Scores are an average across the UK and are designed to give a benchmark, but might not be reflective of performance in a specific region.

For example, a variety with a +3 might be a week to 10 days later in the north, or slightly earlier in the Southeast, so this variation should be taken into consideration. maturing varieties short, he pointed out.

“Mixing maturity can also give you a spread of harvest dates to ensure the wheat doesn’t interfere with the harvest of other crops.

You don’t want to be too early, as you can clash with barley,” he said.

There has been a trend over recent seasons for higher yielding feed wheats added to the Recommended List to be later maturing, limiting the ability to spread harvest dates.

However, Dr Hoad said the burst of new additions to the feed wheat line up for 2017-18 brings a significant development he said Shabras (-1), Freiston (0) and KWS Kerrin and Dunston (+1) offer a spread of ripening scores in the hard group 4 category.

Similarly, in the soft group 4s, LG Motown is early maturing (-1), Savello, Moulton and Hardwicke in the middle ground (0), and LG Sundance and Bennington a fraction later (+1).

Soft feed wheats such as Viscount (0), Leeds (+2) and Revelation (+3) have been popular choices for northern growers for their consistent yields and distilling potential.

As the earliest of the new soft feed varieties, Dr Hoad said LG Motown could be a useful alternative, spreading risk and workload at harvest. It also has high output and distilling potential, even when untreated – features that have been lacking in the group 4 category and represents a major step forward for breeders.

“In the past, there has been a trade-off, with high yielding feed wheats having low untreated yields, but this new group of varieties offers both,” said Dr Hoad.

Limagrain’s arable technical manager, Ron Granger, agreed that LG Motown gave added value in the north, but said that it can also provide a good option further south.

Yielding 106% of controls on light land, it can suit growers on drought-prone soils where a variety with quicker spring growth, combined with good specific weight and early maturity can hold on to its yield, even after a hot and dry June.

“In addition, people are also getting earlier and earlier with oilseed rape drilling, so it could offer an early entry to the crop.

“For those with a blackgrass problem, it can also allow stale seed-beds to be chitted quickly, which is now an important part of grassweed control strategies,” pointed out Mr Granger.

Another key characteristic is orange wheat blossom midge resistance, which is lacking in the new batch of feed varieties – only LG Motown, LG Sundance and KWS Kerrin have the trait.

LG Motown’s weaknesses include eyespot susceptibility and a moderate PGR-treated lodging score of 7, but Mr Granger said these characteristics are not dissimilar to other varieties on the Recommended List and can be managed.

“We have products with good activity on eyespot at the T1 fungicide timing and the standing power can be addressed with a robust split PGR programme,” he said.