The value of using a robust fungicide programme and selecting varieties with good disease resistance has been clearly demonstrated in Hutchinsons trials, near Carlisle.

Disease pressure at the firm’s regional technology centre has been far higher than during the dry conditions of last spring, giving growers attending a recent open day the perfect opportunity to investigate which varieties best suit this region.

Helen Brown, Hutchinsons’ agronomist commented: “We’ve seen some really big differences in disease pressure across treated and untreated plots in our fungicide trials this spring, so I expect there will be some massive variations in yield and grain quality by harvest.

“While crops treated with the farm’s standard fungicide and PGR programme looked healthy and full of potential, rhynchosporium and ramularia had widely infected untreated barley trials, leaving very little green leaf area to build yield and fill grains”.

She added: “Yield benefits from fungicide treatments were likely to significantly exceed last year, which averaged 1.83t/ha across 17 winter barley varieties, 1.26t/ha for 35 winter wheats and 0.6t/ha across nine spring barleys. Grain was also a lot bigger in treated plots – for example specific weight was 0.2-0.3kg/hl higher in spring barley.”

In the important feed wheat sector, LG Skyscraper and Gleam, were two stand-out performers. Hutchinsons’ northern seeds manager, Stewart Macintyre, commented: “Despite conditions, they both look clean and are standing well in our trials, so either would be a really good fit for growers in this region.

“Alongside high yield potential and good disease scores, Skyscraper’s position as a soft Group 4, meant it also had distilling potential. Gleam was also a robust, high-yielder with a versatile drilling window and early maturity.”

In contrast, Dunston – a popular variety that had performed well in recent years – had struggled with mildew and yellow rust in some areas this spring. Mr Macintyre added: “Dunston looked well in our trials at Carlisle, but in other areas it appears to have broken down to yellow rust, so it is one to be careful of.”

Valerie was the pick of the conventional varieties, he added. “It’s rated 103 for yield on the recommended list, and it has exceptional grain quality and looks clean. It’s good against mildew which is particularly important given the loss of fenpropimorph.”

A seed rate demonstration showed the benefits and agronomic challenges associated with using higher seed rates. “Achieving higher yields is all about having enough plants and ears per square metre. Even though plants can tiller well at lower seed rates, that only goes so far, and in many cases will not match the benefit of having more seeds there from the outset,” said Miss Brown

In the wheat trial, LG Sundance and KWS Siskin were sown at 150 to 450 seeds/m2, while rates ranging from 140 to 475 seeds/m2 were trialled in the winter barleys, Surge and Bazooka. Variable rates were also trialled in spring barleys, Laureate and LG Diablo.

The trials manager, Bob Bulmer, said: “There were interesting contrasts between barley varieties in particular that illustrated how important seed rate and ear number was to yield. Two-row barleys, like Surge, for example, typically only had 24 grains per ear compared with 60-plus in six-row varieties on average.”

Results suggested yield would suffer below 700 ears/m2 in two-row barleys and below 300 ears/m2 in six-rows, although Dr Bulmer said there was a reduction in ear size as ear number increased.

Miss Brown acknowledged concerns that higher seed rates could sometimes increase lodging and disease pressure in high-risk seasons, but said it was possible to manage this through variety selection and tailored fertiliser, PGR and fungicide programmes.