New study aims to help growers match wheat varieties to catch crops

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

RAGT is undertaking a major new project to examine the effect of different catch crops on a range of winter wheats to help growers make better-informed variety choice decisions when using this increasingly important aspect of agronomy.

Thirteen existing and pipeline winter wheats from RAGT’s portfolio will be direct-drilled into five catch crops and a fallow plot to assess the effect on wheat growth and development through the season and, ultimately, on yield and quality.

The trial will be on show at RAGT’s demonstration field next summer so growers can assess crop prospects for themselves.

Tom Dummett, RAGT’s cereal and OSR product manager, says: “It is our intention at RAGT to provide growers with as much information as possible about our varieties, above and beyond what appears in the official lists.

“There has been very little work done on the interaction between catch crops and cover crops and different wheat varieties. Given the increasing role that these crops will play on UK farms in the future, whether driven by ELMS, rising input costs or the need to reduce fossil fuel-based inputs in the push towards net zero, this seems an obvious area to investigate.”

The trial will look at first wheat performance only this season, but will be expanded to include second wheats in year two onwards.

Single species and mixtures

The catch crops include three single-species stands – nematode-resistant oilseed radish, phacelia and Ethiopian mustard – as well as two mixtures. Biofum summer plus contains nematode-resistant oilseed radish plus white, brown and Ethiopian mustard to reduce take-all in wheat. RGT Nemaredux combines nematode-resistant oilseed radish, phacelia plus Trio Rocket Lettuce to reduce nematodes in following crops. Fallow plots will act as a benchmark.

The catch crops were established soon after harvest, and the wheats were direct-drilled into these using a Claydon machine towards the end of October.

Nitrogen capture

Catch crops will be left as long as possible after the wheat has been drilled to capture as much nitrogen as they can before winter sets in. The hope is they will then die off naturally, ready to release N in the spring as their remains break down.

In a further development, RAGT will examine intercropping stands of milling varieties RGT Skyfall and RGT Illustrious with nitrogen-fixing cover crop species early in the new year into to see how much bagged late nitrogen they might be able to replace.

“We’ve seen all too clearly how closely nitrogen prices are linked to energy prices this autumn, and how volatile this market can be,” says Tom.

“It makes sense to see how well we can capture some of the nitrogen that remains in the soil after harvest and recycle it for the following crop, and also to find out if we can successfully fix atmospheric nitrogen in the current crop.”

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