YEN quality awards demonstrate ‘holy grail’ of wheat growing

The winners of this year’s Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) wheat quality award prove it is possible to produce high yields and high quality with the right approach to crop agronomy.

Protein dilution at high yields has long been the nemesis for many growers of quality wheats, but not the Hutchinsons-sponsored growers that scooped the top two places in the award announced at the recent AHDB milling wheat conference.

Fenland farmer Sam Markillie of Trinity Hall Farm near Wisbech won gold with his crop of Gallant that yielded 12.54t/ha and 14% protein, while silver went to Will Machin from New Farmweald Ltd in Oxfordshire for his 12t/ha crop of Skyfall, at 14.5% protein.

Winners were selected by NABIM judges from 24 YEN entrants who included Group 1 wheat varieties in the competition.

“It’s an outstanding achievement; to get that sort of yield combined with high protein is the holy grail of wheat growing,” Dr Bob Bulmer of Hutchinsons says.

“Both growers applied modest amounts of bagged nitrogen considering the yields and quality achieved, so a lot of the success is down to soil management.

“Fertile soil is part of this, but so is producing soil structure and crop growth that allows nutrients to be accessed efficiently.

“There is also a ‘farmer factor’ whereby some farmers are able to achieve quality more reliably than others.”

Feed crops well

Regular soil analysis to determine background nutrient levels, plus fertiliser applications tailored closely to crop requirements characterise the winning approaches.

Mr Markillie is particularly keen to try different nitrogen strategies to manage protein dilution.

This includes splitting nitrogen use (totalling 276kg/ha) into six applications through the season, from early spring to the beginning of June, comprising solid and liquid forms to spread the risks associated with crop scorch and limited granular uptake in dry conditions.

“We want to time applications closer to when crops need nitrogen to produce yield and protein, rather than just putting more on early for canopy growth.”

Key to later applications was use of slow-release long chained urea polymers with the T2 and T3 fungicides. “It’s utilised much more efficiently by plants and is safe to use with no scorch risk when applied during the day.”

Mr Machin’s approach was slightly more conventional, with his YEN plot receiving manganese in the autumn, 30kg N/ha as ammonium sulphate, plus two equal doses of urea (80kg N/ha) in March and April. An additional 30kg N/ha was applied to the ear in June to maximise grain protein.

Keeping healthy

Maintaining healthy crops for as long as possible is another major driver of yield and quality.

Both growers reflect this in their disease control strategies, which were based around four main fungicide sprays, plus an intermediary T1.5 spray applied due to concerns of an extended gap between T1 and T2 treatments.

“Our YEN fungicide programme is fairly representative of what we do elsewhere on the farm. We want to benchmark ourselves accurately and economically by not do anything too different or special on the YEN field,” says Mr Markillie.

Mr Machin also treated his YEN trial in largely the same way as his other wheats, apart from the inclusion of an additional T1.5 spray.

“We wouldn’t normally use a T1.5 as a rule, but we couldn’t guarantee the gap between T1 and T2 would be less than four weeks, so decided it would be worthwhile.”

YEN focusses minds

Taking part in YEN has helped both growers focus attention on improving various aspects of crop agronomy; a process that will continue in future seasons.

For Mr Machin, who has taken part in YEN since 2015, the aim remains firmly on improving the consistency of average yields across his land. His YEN plot, taken from within a much larger area, highlighted the impact that removing less productive headlands can have on average yields.

But he has also seen the value of attention to detail in every aspect of agronomy and in particular, the need to maximise biomass growth before winter.

“It’s much harder to recover growth in the spring, so you’ve got to get the crop in early and build biomass to result in higher yields.

“I am very grateful to Hutchinsons for their support with YEN.”

Mr Markillie adds: “YEN has inspired us to be better and more focussed at what we do. We get a lot of support from Hutchinsons and our independent agronomist, but YEN also provides access to a bigger pool of talent that we can call on for advice.”

 

[Summary table]

Sam Markillie Will Machin
2017 YEN trial area 14.1ha whole field (including headlands) 2ha plot within larger area (no headlands)
Soil type Silty clay loam Mixed (clay to Cotswold brash)
Preceding crop Spring beans Oilseed rape
Variety Gallant Skyfall
Yield (t/ha) 12.54 11.97
Protein (inc milling loss) 14% 14.5%
Specific weight (kg/hl) 77.5 78.3

Both used non-inversion disc-based machines as primary cultivators.

 

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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.