Soft wheats have enjoyed a solid performance in 2018, with many outperforming the average of controls, so what lessons are there to be learned when it comes to variety selection?

Thanks to a world-wide reputation for whisky and a landscape that is best-suited to livestock production, soft wheats tend to dominate the winter wheat area in Scotland due to a dual use for distilling and animal feed. Fortunately, there is little to no yield penalty as the best of the group often out-yield the hard types under Scottish conditions.

With yields from 27 sites spanning Great Britain, there is enough data to form a credible and reliable indication of which varieties are the winners and which are the losers. It may come as a surprise to learn, however, that the highest yielding varieties are also some of the most established varieties. As such, those still considering a variety change, should first study the data.

Leading the Group 3 sector is the highest-yielding variety for the north region, KWS Barrel. A UK-yield of 101.7% of controls in 2018 only a few points below its five-year average. It is close to that of the highest-yielding soft feed, KWS Jackal which leads the category with a five-year mean yield of 102.6% of controls.

“KWS Barrel is the favoured variety of growers in Scotland because it combines consistent yields with good late-sowing performance. Its short and stiff, does well on light and heavy soils and has good resistance to yellow rust and mildew,” pointed out Will Compson, KWS' cereal and sales manager.

Of specific interest to Scotland’s growers is the suggestion that Barrel is likely to continue as the highest-yielding variety for the country in 2019-20, says Mr Compson. “The trials are nearing completion, but it is already clear that it is having an excellent year. It will continue to be the highest-yielding Group 3 for the UK, the highest-yielding soft wheat in the north and is close to retaining its place as the highest-yielding variety in the north,” added Mr Compson.

Another established Group 3 to have recorded a solid performance is KWS Bassett. Although behind Elicit in five-year average yield, it recorded the best performance of all Group 3 varieties in harvest 2018. “Although best suited to the south of the UK, it was a season to suit Basset showing that varieties with good yield potential and strong disease resistance will always do well,” said Mr Compson.