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Cereals 2014: New variety options for north-east growers

Simon Oxley
Simon Oxley

In an exclusive interview for the Press and Journal at last week’s Cereals Event in Cambridgeshire,head of the HGCA’s recommended lists Simon Oxley gave an insight into alternative varieties for north-east Scotland’s wheat and barley growers. 

Four attributes are key to wheat gaining a strong following in our region – approval for use in distilling, yield, standing power and early maturity.

Mr Oxley said it’s unusual to tick all the boxes, but there are some promising options for those currently wedded to the popular choice, Viscount, or Alchemy, which he regarded as “outdated” by newer options.

“If you’re growing Alchemy, now might be a good time to switch,” said Mr Oxley.

He cited that with its yield in the north at 98%, there are some very promising alternatives able to deliver up to 10% more with an equal, or better than its ‘medium’ rating for distilling.

He added a proviso before outlining the best alternatives.

“Unlike Skyfall [the new milling wheat variety], there is currently no perfect variety for distilling. But the soft Group 4, Leeds, may be a good option,” said Mr Oxley.

Leeds has a good rating for distilling, a yield of 108% and is stiff strawed. Its only “fly in the ointment” is that it matches Alchemy with a slightly later maturity of +2 and for growers on the Black Isle, its mildew weakness will take some management.

For those considering Leeds as an alternative to Viscount, Mr Oxley advised that “if Viscount is suiting you, carry on growing it. It’s not got a good reputation for sprouting, but its yield at 105% and its ‘good’ rating for distilling, make it the popular option that it is.”

The other soft Group 4 worth a mention is Twister.

Mr Oxley said: “The data we have on yield is limited, but at 109% for the north and 105% for the UK, it looks like it could be a nice alternative to Viscount or Alchemy. It has stiff straw and a ‘medium’ rating for distilling; its only but is that it is like Alchemy in being late to mature.”

Like Leeds he warned it has a mildew weakness which will need managing with an early mildewicide on the Black Isle.

His next recommendation is for two Group 3s – often described as ‘biscuit’ wheats – a less usual suggestion for the north-east – they are Icon and Zulu.

Whilst this group isn’t the first choice for our region, he advocates that farmers should keep an eye on the ‘biscuits’.

Mr Oxley said: “Both Icon and Zulu have a yield of 104% for the north and +2 for maturity. My money is on Icon with its ‘good’ distilling rating. It scores an 8 for mildew, it is strong for yellow rust and has a stiff straw. It has a weaker eyespot rating than Zulu, but this can be managed with a T1 eyespot spray.”

Of the wheats on the Candidate List for 2015, he highlighted Jorvik and RGT Conversion; the latter described by breeders RAGT as one of the highest yielding alcohol varieties for some time, it is also much earlier maturing at -2 which could be of real interest to the north of Scotland.

Mr Oxley said:  “Jorvik has a provisional yield of 104%, lodging may be an issue, it has a +2 for maturity and is, once again, weak on mildew. RGT Conversion is another potential replacement for Alchemy, it has a UK yield of 103% and a provisional 106% for the north, all the disease scores are above 6, it scores a 7 for mildew and has a good specific weight.”

Spring barley is still dominated by Concerto in this crop, but Mr Oxley sees Odyssey as potentially very interesting for maltsters.

He said:  “It has had full approval for both distilling and brewing, its yield is 7% higher than Concerto in the north and the agronomics are good; like many of the others it has a maturity score of +2.”

For winter barley, six-row hybrids bring real value to northern growers he noted, but he said that two-row feeds may be worth investigating.

“Tower and Cavalier at yields of 106% for the north is interesting, as is Glacier, which is early maturing, has BYDV resistance and pretty good agronomics,” said Mr Oxley.