Pressing the Reset Button After a Disappointing Season

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

RAGT Growers Club member Stephen Buckle has just completed a protracted harvest in Yorkshire, starting in the fine weather during mid August but only just completing the last of his spring cereals last week.

The season ended much as it had begun at Limebar Farm, Boroughbridge. After last autumn’s monsoon interrupted and finally curtailed winter wheat drilling, he had to increase his spring wheat area.

“I drilled our 20ha of winter barley for seed well before the rain – it went into a dustbowl,” recalls Stephen.

“The rain then arrived on 24 September. We usually aim to drill all wheat in the first two weeks of October, but I ended up broadcasting 40ha of winter wheat onto ploughing during two dry days at the end of the month.”

By mid-March his sandy clay loam soils had dried sufficiently, and he was able to sow 40ha of spring wheat into a good seedbed.

He harvested the winter barley in the sunshine but only managed to cut about 30% of the winter wheat before rain stopped play for a couple of weeks. During that time, quality deteriorated from fulling milling spec to feed.

“When I drilled it, I thought if I could get 7.5t/ha it would be better than any other crop I could have put in. In the event it ended up at 6.25t/ha, but it was still the right decision at the time.

“The best winter barley ended up yielding 8t/ha, which was the star of our harvest. The rest of the winter barley and the spring wheat all yielded about the same as the winter wheat.

“Overall, it wasn’t too bad considering the season, and we shouldn’t complain. But, when you are budgeting for 10t/ha of winter wheat, it’s still a bit tough to take.”

On-farm trials

Stephen’s on-farm variety trials, run in association with GrainCo, were the last wheats to be cut. This year he trialled 17 varieties across 3ha, but was left struggling to make sense of the results.

“We ended up calling on a neighbour with a disc drill to establish the plots at the end of January. Then the heavens opened again before we headed into a drought situation at the end of March, and we had precious little rain after that until harvest.”

The yield difference between the best and the worst varieties, all of which were treated with the farm’s standard three-spray fungicide programme, shrank from the usual 2-2.5t/ha to just 1t. Yields ranged from 6.2 to 7.2t/ha.

In addition, the variety order was turned more or less on its head, with those he expected to do well propping up others that usually would not have featured in the top half of the table.

“I usually reckon that you need a 0.5t/ha difference to be significant, but this season I’m not even sure of that. I can’t really draw any useful conclusion, except to expect the unexpected when you delay drilling as long as we had to and the weather refuses to play ball.”

High hopes

Stephen is looking forward to pressing the reset button over the next few weeks. He has high hopes for RGT Saki, which featured in his trials for the first time this past season and ended up in the middle of the table.

“I was hoping for a better result, but given where it ended up it’s difficult to say if it was significantly better or worse than any other this season. It’s a bit of a mystery as it is having a really good year in official and independent trials, as I would have expected.

“On that basis it certainly looks like a variety that could tempt me into Group 4 wheats rather than concentrating solely on milling wheat. This usually accounts for about two-thirds of the farm area but doesn’t always all make the grade, so I might be better growing something else as well.”

RGT Wolverine is another variety he is looking forward to trialling. “To get BYDV resistance in a wheat variety is revolutionary. We don’t suffer too much from the disease here, but I expect it will be of real benefit in hotspot areas.

“Interestingly, RGT Wolverine looks like it will stand up on its own merits as far as yield and agronomics are concerned, which often is not the case with varieties that carry new traits. I look forward to seeing how it performs.”

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