An earlier start to wheat harvesting is becoming an important priority for the vast majority of growers across the country, reveals the latest national study by robust wheat breeders, RAGT Seeds.
The study, involving 300+ growers responsible for over 100,000 ha of winter wheat, reveals fully 84% keen to make an earlier start to their wheat harvest, with 60% of these considering earlier harvesting of great value. And this before the horrors of the current harvest became apparent.
“With so many people having to contend with their second horrendous harvest in a row, an earlier start to harvesting will be an even greater priority for most,” points out agronomist, Cathy Hooper who co-ordinated the study. “Not least because reducing weather risk was second only to easing workload pressures in the key benefits of an earlier harvesting wheat identified by our study growers.
“It’s become clear we’re no long able to rely on a consistent stretch of reasonable August weather to get the wheat in,” she stresses. “Which means building a good spread of harvesting into the wheat crop is vital. In particular, being able to make an earlier start to harvesting helps to relieve the pressure that can really build up when the weather is as chancy as it has been over the past two years.
“Unfortunately, most of today’s varieties tend to mature at a similar time to Claire or later. With the exception of Soissons which is very much a specialist choice, only Marksman and Cordiale offer particularly early harvesting. A ripening rating of -2 relative to Claire on the RL means they can be ready a full week ahead of many other wheats in practice. They are both at the quality end of Group 2, with the essential attributes of strong standing power, stable Hagbergs and a good resistance to sprouting. So they’re unlikely to present problems even if harvesting is delayed.
“The two varieties are much of a muchness in yield terms,” Cathy Hooper notes. “While Cordiale tends to deliver a higher specific weight, Marksman clearly stands out for its protein, nitrogen efficiency and disease resistance.”
At Bleakhouse Farm, Gorefeld near Wisbech, Michael Humphrey certainly found the earliness of the 73 acres of Marksman he grew this season valuable. Although, they weren’t drilled until Nov 12, went into difficult seedbeds and suffered badly from slugs in December, they were harvested earlier than the majority of his other 450 acres of wheat drilled in early to mid-October. For which – with a good 200 acres of his crop still in the field at the end of the first week in September – he has been extremely grateful.
At the same time, the variety’s early maturity has meant moisture contents a good 0.5% below the rest of the farm’s wheat from the first field harvested on August 16 right through to the final piece on August 30.
“We harvested our early October-drilled Zebedee first on August 15 because it was in serious danger of going over,” he explains. “After getting the first piece of the Marksman in the dry the following day it took us three attempts to polish off the final 30 acres. We just kept being rained off. The fact that it was always drier than our other wheats really helped. We brought it all in at 16% moisture or less.
“Chopping and changing between varieties as we’ve had to this season makes it difficult to know exactly how the Marksman has yielded. But I’ve been very happy with its performance. Especially as the initial analysis showed 12.6% protein, and 400 Hagberg with a 79.2 kg/hl specific weight. And we only grew it with feed wheat input levels.
“Now we don’t have problems of newly acquired land to contend with, we plan to make far more of the variety in the coming season by getting it drilled in our main October slot. I’m confident it will really help to reduce our harvest risk.”
Having grown 60 acres of Marksman in his 200 acres of wheat at Ramsey St Marys near Peterborough this season has been equally valuable for Phillip Corney. It was the last variety to be drilled – between November 14 and 20 – but the first to harvest on August 15.
What’s more, it averaged a good 3.5 t/acre (8.6 t/ha) and delivered a far higher milling specification than the farm’s Solstice, despite being grown with considerably less nitrogen.
“We used to grow a lot of Soissons,” Phillip Corney recalls. “It suited us well but never gave much more than 3t/acre. And latterly we were having gluten problems.
“Marksman seems to have the same value as a fast developer from drilling after roots with much better yields and the sort of quality it has been suggested could earn us a premium of as much as £40/tonne this year.
“As well as giving us more time for autumn cultivation, we’ve always preferred an earlier harvest. We get far longer combining days in the first half of August than we ever get later in the month, so we like to make the most of them.
“With the sort of summers we’ve been having lately, I’m especially keen to keep our wheat-growing eggs in more than one basket. We’ll definitely be putting in a good acreage of Marksman again this autumn to ensure a good early start to harvesting next year. Especially so, now we know what it can do in quality terms.”
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