Despite 56% of winter wheat growers having drilling delayed by a month or more by last year’s wet autumn – with 27% unable to drill the majority of their winter wheat at all – just 7% plan to drill earlier than normal this autumn.

A recent poll of growers has shown that the vast majority, nearly 87%, plan to drill at the same time as normal, with the remainder planning to drill later. The poll was conducted from around 40 growers around the UK by Syngenta this summer, most of whom were planning to grow between 51 and 400 ha of winter wheat.

Key risks from earlier drilling included black-grass, lodging, septoria tritici and barley yellow dwarf virus. “On the face of the results, it appears most growers are taking a sensible approach by resisting the temptation to drill early as a knee-jerk response to 2019’s washout autumn,” said Syngenta seed and variety expert, Tracy Creasy.

“That is a good approach to take because early drilling does increase the risk of all four problems that participants in the survey identified. Nevertheless, a number of winter wheat growers were intending to drill earlier. These growers are going to have to take extra care – beginning by growing robust varieties.”

Of the winter wheat varieties growers in the poll are planning to grow this season, three out of the four most popular – Gleam, Graham and KWS Extase – all have septoria tritici resistance ratings of 6.3 or above on the 2020/21 AHDB Recommended List, pointed out Mrs Creasy.

“Choosing a variety with a good septoria tritici resistance is a great place to start whenever you drill, but especially if planning to drill early. What is also important if drilling early is choosing varieties that have shown only low levels of lodging.”

Respondents to the poll were somewhat divided about the impact that earlier drilling had on the risk posed by diseases that threaten crop establishment, such as fusarium. Just over half, 55%, felt that earlier drilling neither increased nor decreased the risk. “Considering a seed treatment to tackle diseases that threaten establishment is important whenever you plan to drill,” added Mrs Creasy.

Some 13% of respondents in the poll were planning to grow the new winter wheat, SY Insitor, which has the highest UK treated yield figure of the four new winter wheat varieties added to the AHDB Recommended List for 2020/21.