Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Wet weather is causing many wheat growers to rethink their drilling plans for the second autumn running, with some on well-bodied soil wondering if they will be able to get back on the land in time to establish a viable crop.
Most varieties on the Recommended List have an advised latest safe sowing date of end of January to ensure sufficient vernalisation. A further five have a mid-February cut off, while the same number again have an end-of-February limit.
This latter group of varieties could buy growers valuable time when it comes to establishing viable crops of wheat.
One in particular, RGT Skyfall, stands out from the pack, says Mike Thornton, ProCam’s head of crop production.
“For several years we have carried out demonstration plots looking at the suitability of varieties for late drilling, mostly considering their speed of development.
“RGT Skyfall has come out as the best, thanks to its lower vernalisation requirement that allows it to be drilled later than the others.
“This year has been a horrible one for growing anything, but those that planted Skyfall late have generally been very pleased with its performance.”
RGT Skyfall is also vigorous, helping it to withstand less-than-ideal conditions. “It has been very consistent across all regions and farmers know how to grow it.
“People often ask how late you can go. I would err on the side of caution and advise sticking to the end-of-February guide, but it does seem that if a decent spell of frost is forecast you can push that a bit.”
Maintain seed rates
Growers should be prepared to invest in the crop, Mike adds. “You might be going as high as 400 seeds towards the end of February. It is important to keep seed rates up to maintain optimum ear numbers. Reduce the area rather than rate, perhaps by leaving the worst headlands where performance is likely to be compromised.
“You should also plan a sensible inputs programme to optimise the chances of recouping the considerable time and money spent establishing the crop and to increase the chances of a sensible yield, particularly with wheat worth £150-155/t off the combine next harvest.
“But growers and agronomists do need to be on their toes. Late-sown RGT Skyfall goes through its growth stages quickly, particularly in the south of the country where it is still very likely to be ready to harvest in August."
“If you are prepared to look after it, sowing Skyfall looks a good option even when February is drawing to a close.”
Early spring-sown RGT Skyfall pleases in Yorkshire
Quick emergence, plenty of early vigour and timely rainfall helped an early spring-sown crop of RGT Skyfall produce a sizeable heap of good quality wheat at Rise Farms near Hull in East Yorkshire.
Nonstop wet weather ended any hope of getting the crop in the ground last autumn. “The 60ha of RGT Skyfall was eventually drilled at the end of February and beginning of March,” says Mark Turner, who looks after spraying and cultivations across 800ha of mixed arable land.
“We just couldn’t get on any earlier for fear of making a mess. We ended up ploughing, then cultivating with an 8m Vaderstad NZ tine harrow before drilling with a 6m Rapid. Conditions were tender underneath but we achieved a good tilth on top.”
The crop was drilled using variable seed rates, ranging from 130kg/ha to 180kg/ha. It emerged quickly and progressed through growth stages at a healthy lick.
“We didn’t do anything special as the RGT Skyfall looked well through spring and fortunately we got some rain at a critical time which pushed the crop on during what had been a very dry period.”
It was cut on 13 and 14 September, later than the farm would normally like but perfectly acceptable given the season. The crop averaged 6t/ha. Although well below the usual 10t/ha target for a winter wheat, it was above expectations given the sowing date and more than covered its costs.
“I believe quality is good but as yet it’s not sold so we can’t say whether it will go for milling,” says Mark.
“Overall we were very happy with the performance of the variety. We decided to grow a further 90ha this autumn and this time we got it in on time – it’s already established very well, I’m pleased to say.”
Timely frost helps Surrey crop
A mid-March drilled crop of RGT Skyfall on the Surrey/Kent border yielded 7t/ha last harvest. The 10ha crop leapt out of the ground and sped through its growth stages, and was cut in mid-August.
Agrovista agronomist Linda Sheppard says: “I had a long discussion with the farmer as we knew it was a risk, and I left the final decision to him!
“I wouldn’t want to promote going as late as we did, even with RGT Skyfall. We were lucky – we caught a week of frosts which helped set the crop up.
“Going later looks risky, especially this far south. We did reduce inputs on this crop in case we didn’t get any vernalisation, but you still have to spend a certain amount to produce a suitable number of ears and to protect crop potential.
“I’d be happy to go until the end of February. That looks a sensible cut-off in my area, unless you have a Beast from the East in the forecast and you can travel.”
To learn more about this winter wheat download the latest datasheet.