Three new varieties from UK breeding house, Elsoms Seeds, have come through the tough 2020 test with flying colours – with a particular emphasis as being suitable in Scotland.

New winter wheat varieties, Merit and Astound, along with winter barley Bolton all performed impressively during a challenging year, pointed out George Goodwin, the vining pea and combinable crop manager for the company.

“Both Merit and Bolton fully deserve their positions on the new Recommended List and in Astound I believe we have the perfect mixed farm system variety,” he added.

“For those looking for a straightforward, low inputs, easy to grow winter wheat that produces stiff straw for livestock, then Astound should be a go-to option. It’s flexible on drilling dates, yielded 102% of controls in recent trials and displayed excellent standing ability and lodging resistance in both treated and untreated situations.

“Overall disease scores were excellent with a 6.8 for septoria, a 7 for mildew and an 8 for yellow rust. With a consistent and attractive profile it should provide stern competition to both Gravity and Graham,” he argued.

In the Group 3 biscuit wheat market – where Elsoms already have a strong presence through Elicit – the addition of new NABIM wheat, Merit, strengthens that position.

“Merit has a robust disease package and in recent trials, when late sown, it was 105% of controls. With a high untreated yield, excellent septoria resistance at 6.6 and producing highly marketable grain it is expected to be fully approved for both UK distilling and export in 2021.

“It’s certainly the Group 3 that’s most likely to offer growers the widest range of marketing options next year,” he said.

Also on the RL, the new winter barley, Bolton, is one of the first to come through Elsoms’ Ackermann breeding programme aimed at providing the UK market with greater genetic diversity.

“Bolton was incredibly consistent achieving between 105-106% of controls across all its regional trials. It offers a good balance between high yield and good disease resistance, it’s barley yellow mosaic virus (BYMV) resistant and is suitable for both heavy and light land,” pointed out Mr Goodwin.

“Following our recent success with Jordan, the launch of Bolton confirms that the future Elsoms Ackermann barley pipeline looks strong.”

Putting both Astound and Bolton through their paces this year where independent agronomists Will Foster, Holmewood Arable, and David Coppack, Wheatlands Agronomy. Both work closely with farmer, Peter Hewson, Wold Newton Farm, Market Rasen, who trialled both varieties.

Despite the tough agronomic challenge of a very wet autumn/winter followed by one of the driest springs on record, they agreed that the varieties showed excellent early vigour and competitiveness in conditions that made the application of nitrogen fertiliser, or pre-emergence herbicides impossible during the crop’s critical early growth phases.

“On the 33ha of Bolton drilled on October 23, we were not able to get anything onto the crop until March 15, when we applied an initial dose of nitrogen, phosphate and potash.

!Despite this, it coped very well in the heavy cold soil conditions and competed well. We applied two plant growth regulators in mid-April and early May, respectively, to stop the crop necking but overall there where very few other concerns,” pointed out Mr Coppack.

“During the extremely dry spring and early summer that followed, we went ‘little and often’ with the N up to a total of 160kg/ha to get the crop through and were rewarded with a very clean crop with no lodging.

“Bolton yielded just under 9t/ha, which was exceptional and certainly Peter’s highest yielding Winter barley,” said Mr Coppack.

On Astound, which was drilled on January 31 on the farm’s heavy Wold clay, the results were equally impressive.

“It’s fair to say that 2020 was an incredibly challenging season. We applied one PGR in April but this was more about giving the crop a physiological boost to encourage rooting and tillering, not straw shortening.

“It wasn’t a high-pressure disease year, so we went with a very basic fungicide package and, despite the unprecedented dry spell, Astound showed few signs of stress. Final yield was excellent in view of the extreme weather and early grain samples showed a high quality, bold grain.

“Astound has a very strong disease package and should make for a low risk option for most growers regardless of growing conditions,” confirmed Mr Foster.