Could blending wheat varieties help reduce risk on your farm?

Six AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Monitor Farm hosts in Wales and the West of England are testing out whether growing a blend of wheat varieties could have benefits for the bottom line of their farm businesses.

The six farmers – Tom Rees (Pembrokeshire), Adam Lewis (Herefordshire), Jack Hopkins (Herefordshire), Martin Carr (Herefordshire), Rob Beaumont (Herefordshire) and Rory Lay (Shropshire) – are growing Gleam, KWS Extase, Graham and LG Skyscraper all in the same field, for harvest 2021. Each participating farm will be making comparisons between each other’s experiences and also with a field of Graham on their own farms.

Emily Pope, AHDB senior knowledge transfer manager, said: “Levy payers are increasingly looking to new approaches to manage disease. Using blends brings together the disease-resistance profiles of several cereal varieties. The approach has potential to reduce disease, improve stability and increase yield. Blends, therefore, could potentially reduce risk for levy payers. While research has shown that fungicide inputs can be reduced in mixtures, it’s not yet conclusive.”

The Monitor Farms plan to compare results throughout the growing season, until the final yield results at harvest.

Growing a blend of varieties could help the monitor farmers to reduce disease and potentially increase yield, by increasing the genetic diversity within the field. Mixtures of three or more varieties show the greatest potential. Other growers of blended varieties have found that blend varieties are particularly effective when looking to combat the presence of septoria in the crop, a high risk disease in West England and Wales.

Hereford Monitor Farm host Adam Lewis is one of the farmers trying out the blend. He planted 28ac on 5 October 2020 and hopes that the mix will help him level out his disease profile while maintaining yield. He said:

“One particular variety doesn’t necessarily have all the answers. So this is about firing the imagination. If you have a field of blended varieties they might be able to bring a characteristic to the party that the others don’t have. It’s about spreading the risk, really.

“Farming nowadays isn’t about producing the biggest crop or getting it established the best. It seems to be about risk management- whether that’s about marketing, varieties, fungicides or herbicides. This is another link in the risk management chain.

“I’ll hopefully end up with a blend that’s genetically suited to my field.”

The four varieties were chosen from the AHDB Recommended Lists, based on their characteristics of disease resistance, maturity, height and yield.

For farmers wanting to test this out for themselves, AHDB expert Simon Oxley recommends: “Use the Recommended Lists to select varieties of a similar type with similar maturity. Height differences should not be too extreme, and the varieties should have complementary resistances for disease, specific weight and straw strength. For hard feed you can select from group 1, 2 and 4.”

The pitfalls, according to AHDB expert Simon Oxley, are that end-users are unlikely to accept blends. “This is less of an issue if you’re using what you grow as feed on farm,” he said.

For anything other than use on farm, growers should definitely have a contract in place before drilling. In organics, however, blends can sometimes be more acceptable.

The six monitor farmers are hoping that, by growing a blend of varieties, they will develop a mix that’s well suited to their own farm conditions. In each season one individual variety will come to the top: the blend will provide stability although not necessarily the top yield.

Mr Oxley said: “But if you save seed to grow next year, what you sow won’t be the same ratio you drilled originally. And it could be that if you save the blend, the dominant variety may not always be best for the next season.”

It is important to calculate royalty payments   for seed mixtures: see the BSPB website for more details. Any home-saved seed should also be quality tested for germination and disease, and discarded if too diseased.

AHDB funded a research project on blends: ahdb.org.uk/blending-of-wheat-for-resilience-improved-distilling-quality-and-greater-environmental-stability-bridges

Find out more about AHDB’s Monitor Farms or get involved in our Monitor Farm Mondays webinars. #monitorfarm

There is more information about growing mixed varieties in the AHDB Wheat and Barley Disease Management Guides.

Adam Lewis, Hereford Monitor Farm host:

  • Farm name: Hampton Wafre Farm, Leominster
  • Varietal mix: Gleam (25%), KWS Extase (25%), Graham (25%) and LG Skyscraper (25%)
  • Drilled: 5 October 2020
  • Area planted: 28 acres
  • Five-year average feed wheat yield: 4.2t/ac
  • Rotation of the try-out fields: second wheat, wheat after spring oats, wheat after oilseed rape
  • Soil types: silty loam, gravel, heavy clay

 

 

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.