New soft biscuit-type wheat shows promise on light land

Field-scale evaluations on a light-land East Anglian farm comparing new soft biscuit-type wheat Belepi to hybrid and conventional options show pre-harvest promise that, if fulfilled, could lead to the variety becoming a serious consideration on such land, believes the farmer involved.

Bred by Blackman Agriculture and marketed by Ebbage Seeds, Belepi is one of three wheat varieties being grown this season by Norfolk farmer Robert Childerhouse, alongside winter and spring barley and sugar beet. With feed wheats needing to offer serious advantages to make them worthwhile growing on light ground, the variety’s vigorous early growth and high yield potential are particularly appealing, he says.

“We vary our wheat variety selection in order to spread risk, but in recent years have done well with milling wheats in particular. But milling premiums can’t be guaranteed, and for the past couple of years all our wheats have been feed types.

“Our drought-prone breckland soils can limit yield potential in a dry season, so a variety that can handle low rainfall conditions and matures sufficiently early before moisture deficit can become an issue are big advantages.”

Belepi has a wide potential drilling window stretching right through from October to April, suiting it to a variety of rotational slots, although on Robert Childerhouse’s farm, the Belepi was drilled pre-Christmas. The first area was sown on 25 November after early-lifted sugar beet, in part of a field that was otherwise put down to Alchemy. Despite significantly different seed rates, the two produced the same spring plant counts.

“The Alchemy was drilled at 185kg/ha, while the Belepi was sown at 110kg/ha, but by April 16 the counts for both recorded 170 plants/sq m.”

The other evaluation is a second wheat comparison with side-by-side five hectare fields, one of which was drilled with Belepi at 110kg/ha, and the other sown with a hybrid wheat variety at 112kg/ha. Both fields were drilled on October 31.

“The hybrid wheat and the Belepi have received exactly the same input programme, whether required or not, to enable a proper and fair comparison of their performance,” Mr Childerhouse explains.

“This meant that the Belepi, like the hybrid, received a T0 fungicide, although had I not been conducting a farm trial, that wouldn’t have been the case, as there was no disease evident in the Belepi at that stage.

“We plan our budgets on achieving 3.25t/ac (8t/ha) when growing milling wheats, and a feed variety has to be good enough to give at least 0.25t/ha extra to counter the lack of a premium. The Belepi has certainly been more impressive than the hybrid wheat through the growing season, and I’ll be interested to see how well this translates into yield at harvest. Given how well it looked through to the end of June, I’m quite confident it will outperform the hybrid, and I think that unless anything changes between now and harvest, Belepi will probably become my default variety for next year.”

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