Changing their mindset and considering hard wheats when making variety choices could allow Scottish farmers to take advantage of better yields and disease resistance ratings, according to a leading plant breeder.

Challenging growers north of the Border not to rule out growing hard varieties, Limagrain’s arable technical manager, Ron Granger, said: “Like growers across the UK, Scottish farmers are not only looking for varieties with the highest out-and-out yield but are increasingly focusing on ones which will give them security of yield across a range of conditions, sites and seasons.”

“But over the years, the focus on growing for the distilling market has led to a mindset which will only entertain soft varieties,” he said, speaking prior to a trials day, last week. “And while this does give them the option of a dual outlet for their wheat, the feed market also plays a huge role in Scotland and some of the characteristics offered by hard wheats can give real savings and additional flexibility in disease control – a big plus especially as integrated crop management practices become more widely adopted.”

He added that a 'certain group' operating in Scotland was advising clients not to grow soft wheats if they were aiming for the feed market, but to key into the benefits of hard varieties which could include much better resistance to Scotland’s most persistent problem, septoria tritici.

Read more: Limagrain hopes its LG Typhoon will blow away the opposition

LG Typhoon, he said, offered considerable benefits to Scottish growers – as not only was it suitable for early drilling, it offered league-topping resistance rating to septoria both on the one year and three year average scale as well as consistency of yield over seasons.

Responding to a call from Professor Fiona Burnett made at the recent Arable Scotland event for plant breeders to up their game and provide the septoria resistance ratings which were available in hard wheats in soft varieties, he said that new LG Sundance crosses, such as the upcoming variety LG Redwald, offered hope on this front along with excellent yields.

However, with a significant number of soft wheats having the Cougar gene in their parentage, the breakdown of the septoria resistance which this had offered meant that the high yields and resistance offered in hard varieties wasn’t immediately available. For this reason Mr Granger said that it in future it would be important that more than one resistance gene was stacked in any variety to ensure its longevity.

But he also suggested that it could be time for distillers to revisit their thinking on hard wheats: “It’s not that hard wheat can’t be used for distilling, it’s more to do with spirit yield which the distillers can achieve. Much of the work carried out on hard varieties was done a long time ago and, as things have moved on considerably since then, it might well be time for the distillers to take another look at hard wheats and see where they sit.”

Speaking ahead of the meeting with the grain trade in Perth, earlier this week, Mr Granger also welcomed the UK Government’s plans to simplify the regulations surrounding field trials of gene edited varieties with a view to introducing the flexibility to grow them commercially: “Europe has come to a bit of a standstill on this front,” he said.

"But the UK undoubtedly has great potential along with the technical know-how and the scientists to take the lead on new precision breeding techniques – but we need the green light to see us off the starting blocks.”

However, he conceded that it was important that Europe also reconsidered its current stance which applied the same tight restrictions to gene edited varieties as it did to old-school transgenic GMOs – and he questioned if the resources would be made available by seed companies if the UK decided to go it alone in a direction which created barriers to marketing new varieties on the continent.