New Winter Wheat on Trial at Mains of Thornton

Winter wheat is becoming an established part of the rotation at Murray Cooper’s organic arable unit at Mains Of Thornton near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire.

Last season he grew it for the first time, sowing 12ha in late October. The crop, grown for seed, yielded 5t/ha.

“We’ve grown spring wheat in the past, but it has not done that well for us,” says Murray. “I was reasonably happy with the winter wheat yield, given the season, and we’ve enough to fulfil the order book.”

This season he is trying a new variety, RGT Bairstow, on about 5ha. This potential Recommended List Candidate is a very high yielding soft Group 4 feed wheat.

“We’re always keen to try new varieties for organic use, and this one looks like it could be useful,” says Murray.

RGT Bairstow scores a strong 7 for Septoria tritici resistance, 8 and 7 respectively for yellow and brown rust and 6 for mildew. It is also resistant to orange wheat blossom midge.

Those scores will help reduce disease pressure on the crop. Murray also aims to start drilling in mid October to avoid lush growth, helping to keep the crop clean through the winter and into the spring.

He also sets great store by applying foliar feeds throughout the season, particularly phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and sulphur, based on soil and tissue tests to keep his crops in best possible condition. Applications to winter wheat will start once the crop has enough leaf.

“We don’t suffer too much disease in this area as a rule, but being organic we have a limited armoury so we want to reduce the risk where we can.”

Spring barley remains a key crop at Mains of Thornton. Murray’s 12ha of RGT Planet grown mainly for seed put in another good performance last harvest and a similar area is planned next spring, some of which will go to fulfil a couple of contracts he has picked up with local cattle finishers.

“The Planet ran quite well – we cut it in the first week of September and it yielded 4.75t/ha dried overall, right at the top of the 10-year average and slightly ahead of our other variety."

"We did see a tiny bit of disease, being a wet season, but we usually find what comes in disappears soon after – it’s not doing any visual damage.”

He admits he would like more yield – the best field did over 6.25t/ha so it’s certainly possible. He is looking further into the potential of foliar feeding, including home-made foliar feeds.

“We are trialling this with different weeds on the farm, immersing them in water for five to six weeks before sending the liquid to be analysed.

“The best one so far is similar to a commercial product that retails for £5.50/litre. So far we have produced 100 litres from 10kg of product, so we will be using more of this over the coming season.”

Some of the liquid was trialled as a seed dressing of a small area of OSR and followed up with a foliar spray at 2.5 litres/ha. “It made a difference to emergence and plant size. We will probably keep going – we could do weekly as long as the crop keep growing.”

Murray will have more crops to report in in the future, after a decision to rent a further 60ha of land on an initial three-year agreement. It also supports an established Aberdeen Angus herd, which he will keep.

“I am considering converting the land to organic, along with our other 120ha unit, but it currently has a high weed burden so I’m unsure what to do at the moment,” he says. “I will probably use some of my seed Planet for the arable area and we’ll go from there.”

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