Winter Trials Update - Wheat
Wheat Varieties

This season our on-farm cultivar evaluation network has been looking at Winter Winter through LiveWheat Legacy, funded by Organic Arable and Winter Oats, funded through the White's research levy. This blog provides the latest results on how the varieties have faired over the wet, mild winter through assessment of post winter ground cover and early vigour. These agroecological traits are extremely important for Organic farming since they govern weed suppression and lay the foundation for crop performance for the rest of the season. We have even found a strong link between early ground cover and grain yield.

LiveWheat Legacy

Early Crop Vigour

In essence a visual assessment of biomass, this gives us an idea of which varieties may be able to out compete weeds, through a high growth rate, and also potentially an earlier development, being fast to stem extension. Whilst the stats say that only Highrove (a) has significantly higher vigour than Typhoon (b), the rankings enable us to group  them into high, moderate, and low early vigour, with an obvious benefit to growing the high vigour varieties.  RGT Highrove, a hard group 4 leads the way. Apparently it has excellent all round disease resistance and is most suited to light and medium land, with adaption to drought. A new soft group 4, Redwald, also shows good early vigour, as well as group 2s Extase (the benchmark) and Mayflower, and a blend of the two. Maris Widgeon, a heritage variety also has high biomass at this time of year. Champion, a hard group 4 and Astronomer, a group 3 show moderate vigour along with the composite cross population YQ (Wakelyns ORC Population). Although showing only moderate vigour, Astronomer showed last season that it can be considered a good option for those wishing to grow a biscuit wheat. Nelson and Typhoon are bringing up the rear, mostly due to their slow rate of development, being late varieties in comparison to varieties like Extase.

Crop vigour scores for winter wheat varieties in late Feb/early March

Early Ground Cover

Ground cover may be the most important trait at this stage of the season, helping to suppress weeds very effectively, as we observed last season with the variety Mayflower. The results this year show Mayflower is again the best variety for post-winter ground cover, with only the blend of Mayflower partnered with Extase performing better. Again the stats would show only these two (a) being significantly higher than YQ, Extase, Typhoon and Nelson (b), but a more subjective grouping of high, moderate and low seems appropriate. We would expect there to be a reasonable link between ground cover and vigour, and for the most part the rankings are similar, however, a rather surprising result is that Extase  is performing poorly for the trait this season, which may be a feature of its earliness and the fact that as it tries to quickly develop this Spring, it is being held back by poor soil conditions. This poses an interesting question; Is being early and vigourous always a positive trait? It would seem that in this season with a very wet, mild winter, it may not be and gives weight to the argument that growth cycle should be diversified, either through a blend of an early and late variety, as with the Mayflower, Extase combination, or growing them separately but as a part of your winter wheat acreage. Climate change will necessitate this kind of approach, as over reliance on a single set of genetics is risky. Whether the season is good for an early variety or late variety, all bases are covered with a combination of the two. The blend of Extase and Mayflower shows a ground cover greater than that of the average for the two components, which is exactly what you'd expect if a blend is designed to maximise on niche complementarity.
Crop percentage ground cover for winter wheat varieties in late Feb/early March