By Chris Leslie,

knowledge exchange manager arable at AHDB

With autumn sowing mainly due to start on many farms in September, farmers will by now have already selected the crop and varieties they plan to sow – and many will have turned to AHDB’s Recommended lists (RL) for advice.

So, I’ve spoken to some of Scotland’s leading cereals farmers to find out what they are sowing this autumn.

John Weir, the 2019 Scottish Arable Farmer of the Year, from Lacesston Farm, Gateside, has already got his autumn sowing underway, planting Acacia oilseed rape in mid-August. He told me: “I plan to sow Conway oats this autumn to get a better quality oat harvested earlier which I supply to Quaker.

"I will also be sowing Kingston hybrid winter barley, which will provide autumn and winter vigour and will be used as feed for my beef cattle. I will also sow Spotlight winter wheat, which is a newer variety with good quality credentials providing good bushel weight and disease resistance and will sow Jackal winter wheat as it suits my farm and soil conditions and will be sold for feed and distilling.”

Dave Bell, AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds board member and regional winner of the highest winter cereal crop yield at YEN 2019, is planning to increase his wheat area and use some of his spring barley ground to grow an additional crop of wheat this autumn.

He said: “I am using the resilience in my rotation to be able to change and put in a second crop of wheat at Fairfield Farm. I plan to sow a selection of varieties which are from my ‘bible’, the AHDB Recommended Lists. I have chosen high yielding soft wheats – LG Spotlight, LG Skyscraper and SY Insitor – which we will plant on different sowing dates. Some will be used for seed and some for feed and distilling.

“We have had a strong year with our YEN entry and we are looking to replicate it again this season. I will be sowing Bordeaux, which is a high yielding conventional winter barley, for feed. I am also planning to sow beans in the rotation to mix up white crops and add breaks in the rotation to aid soil fertility.”

Donald Ross, the Scottish Arable Farmer of the Year in 2018, farms in the Black Isle, Easter Ross, and has just finished planting 41 acres of Afeire, which is a conventional oilseed rape. He is increasing his wheat acreage and will be sowing Grafton as a second wheat for feed; SY Insitor also for feed and LG Skyscraper for distilling.

As part of the trials he is carrying out with AHDB, Strategic Cereals Farm host, David Aglen, at Balbirnie Home Farms, in Fife, will be sowing Crusoe, a variety of milling wheat that will, hopefully, be resistant to disease and provide a high yield as well as a new market opportunity.

He explained: “Our aim is to find a variety as close as possible to the Wild Emmer wheat that originated from the prairies in North America as its plant health characteristics are very resistant to disease and it should provide a higher yield than other varieties.

"Our original plan had been to grow a variety called Shamrock. It is similar to Wild Emmer wheat but due to its unavailability we have gone with Crusoe this season, which is on the AHDB Recommended List. The IPM strategy on it could potentially be quite low. It also has the advantage of sharing similar agronomic traits and parentage to Shamrock.

"As part of AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme we trial different cereal varieties that will perform well under Scottish conditions. The trials at Balbirnie are being conducted on winter wheat and we have selected Crusoe which we believe will perform in a similar way to the UK winter wheat variety, Shamrock, which is unusual in that it exhibits a non-glaucous phenotype, conferred by the Wild Emmer gene inhibitor of wax 1 (Iw1).

"UK field trials with Shamrock associated a yield advantage of 4.15% with Iw1. The trial aims to see if Crusoe can impart the advantage for wheat yield and physiology in the UK."

AHDB's tramline trial will have different seed rates direct drilled across the field. In-keeping with the recent Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) results, we are aiming to try and maximise head numbers at harvest, the trial will be entered into the YEN competition for ongoing assessment during the season.

The YEN Network has been a huge success for growers striving to increase their crop yields as it helps farmers understand their yields and how to tailor the growing of different varieties under the conditions at their farm.

Not always about high yield, YEN can allow subtle strategies to be trialled and the effects assessed at a range of different farms. This approach could be taking us forward into a new era of ‘on farm’ crop trials.