Late-drilled wheats you can depend on

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Tom Dummett, RAGT cereal and oilseed rape product manager

Many growers have made good progress with their drilling programmes this autumn, though the recent spell of wet weather has slowed things down.

Others will have areas to drill after roots and late maize, and some with serious grassweed problems may have delayed until relatively recently.

With luck the weather will remain kind and drilling will be completed with the minimum of fuss, which would represent a much-needed improvement in growers’ fortunes after the past couple of autumns.

However, having a few bags of a variety with proven late-drilling credentials is never a bad thing.


Being able to drill through to the end of February or even later provides valuable insurance and much-needed flexibility when the weather does take a prolonged turn for the worse, especially on well-bodied soil when you might be left wondering if you will be able to establish a viable crop.

Most varieties on the current Recommended List have an advised latest safe sowing date of end of January to ensure sufficient vernalisation – the period of low temperatures required to trigger the transition from vegetative to reproductive phase.

Nine varieties have a mid-February cut off, while just five have an end-of-February limit, two of these on limited data.

This latter group of varieties could buy growers valuable extra time when it comes to establishing viable crops of wheat.

Tom Dummett in RGT Skyfall drilled in early March

RGT Skyfall stands out from the pack. In merchant and in-house demonstration plots, this variety has consistently proved its worth in the very late drilling slot, thanks to its very low vernalisation requirement, which enables it to set viable ears even when subject to relatively few cold days.

These observations have been confirmed in RAGT’s own glasshouse and field tests, and RAGT backs the variety even when sown up to the end of the first week of March.

In the glasshouse tests we subjected Skyfall, along with four popular fully recommended wheats, to five different vernalisation periods (days less then 5ºC) and measured the percentage of plants that ended up in ear.

There was not much difference between varieties when subjected to relatively long vernalisation periods of 56 and 42 days. However, big differences became apparent when plants were subjected to 28 days below 5ºC. All Skyfall plants successfully carried ears after this time, but the percentage of other varieties in ear ranged from 0% to 50%.

After just two weeks of vernalisation, an impressive 79% of Skyfall plants still managed to produce ears, while the other four varieties failed to produce any ears. Even with no vernalisation at all, Skyfall’s success rate still stood at 71%.

Skyfall is vigorous and can put up with less-than-ideal conditions, resulting in a consistent performance wherever it is grown.

A yield of 6-7t/ha is a realistic target when drilled late February/early March, making it a very useful, more flexible alternative to an early-drilled spring wheat. At current wheat prices, using a sensible inputs programme that reflect expectations without compromising performance, it will still produce a decent margin.

We would advise keeping seed rates up, perhaps up to 400 seeds/ha depending on conditions to ensure there are enough tillers to produce good ear numbers.

RGT Saki

RGT Saki is another wheat from RAGT that performs well when late sown. This variety has a latest safe sowing date of end of January, so cannot be drilled as late as Skyfall, but came out as one of the best varieties in late sown Recommended List trials (sown after 1 November).

Growers with land still to drill with seed could do well to add this to their variety choice, safe in the knowledge that they have a variety that will deliver the goods.

RGT Saki remains the most resistant variety to septoria in the soft Group 4 sector, and delivers exceptional yields with a rating of 103 for the five-year treated average, according to the latest RL provisional trials results.

Last year Norfolk grower Ken Goodger sowed his 27ha of RGT Saki in late November and early December, some after a first wheat and the rest after camomile and spring beans.

Ken says: “I liked how the RGT Saki looked in the field, it stood well and we ended up with a better-than-expected average of 8.8t/ha.”

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