As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Affing’ should be ‘affecting
by Arable Farming Magazine July 2022 issue
Group 3 wheat varieties took a knock last year with the breakdown in Cougar-derived septoria resistance, but with new genetics and strong market demand, prospects are improving.
Increasing levels of septoria seen in most AHDB Recommended List (RL) Group 3 wheat varieties linked to Cougar parentage were pretty devastating for many in the industry last year, says Dr Kirsty Richards of KWS.
But just one year on, it is a different picture with non Cougar varieties topping the group in the new RL and adding the vital genetic diversity needed to boost growers’ and millers’ confidence in it, she believes.
“Group 3 wheats are unique to the UK and primarily suited for biscuits, cakes and other flours where the main requirement is for soft milling characteristics and with good extraction rates and extensibility with gluten that is not too elastic.
“As well as being grown for domestic consumption, they are desired by continental millers for use in biscuit and flatbread production, with many Group 3 wheat varieties having the uks brand for export.
Wheat distilling “In addition, thanks to the lower protein and higher starch ratio of these softer milling types, many Group 3s also have opportunities in the wheat distilling sector.”
No fewer than six of the eight of the Group 3 varieties on the 2021/2022 RL had septoria resistance based on Cougar parentage, she adds.
“Fortunately for us, KWS Firefly was the only variety with its septoria resistance based on Cougar genetics.
“That said, KWS Firefly was probably the most popular Group 3 variety for many years, so it has been quite a loss for growers in many parts of the country.
“Group 3 can be a very valuable niche opportunity for many with strong and stable demand for these wheats.
“Because they require a lower level of inputs than full specification breadmaking wheats they make economic sense too, particularly when you factor in the premiums available.”
According to James Webster, senior agribusiness analyst with The Andersons Centre, there is still good demand for Group 3s for confectionery, mainly biscuits and cakes, and distilling sectors with the 2021 share of the UK wheat area standing at 9%.
“Historically, good premiums have been available for the best Group 3 varieties on the back of strong demand from manufacturers of biscuits, cakes and bakes in the UK, together with tight supply.
“Low protein soft wheats also offer good alcohol yields, making them attractive for bioethanol production.
Given the introduction of E10 in September 2021, demand from the UK bioethanol plants is expected to be strong going forwards.
“The UK has a long history of producing good Group 3 soft wheats and does so like no-one else.
This has helped it to develop a good reputation with international buyers and a significant export trade to markets such as Iberia and North Africa.
“In the past, variety choices were more polarised between milling and feed, but with new high yielding Group 3 varieties that have strong agronomic merit there are more options open to growers.
“While growers should choose varieties with the end market in mind, higher yielding varieties offer greater flexibility and reactivity to movements in premiums,” he says.
Good agronomic properties are increasingly important, too, he adds.
“There are fewer crop protection options available, at a higher cost, with governments, end-users and consumers increasingly appearing to favour a more environmentally friendly, sustainable approach to food production.
“As such, it is also reasonable to assume the focus will increasingly be on varieties with inherently good genetic disease resistance.”
Dr Richards says the introduction of new non-Cougar-based resistance in the latest Group 3 varieties KWS Guium and KWS Brium – which now top the group in the 2022/23 R – is an important step forward but KWS Firefly still has a place in some rotations.
“If you are looking for a variety to help scheduling on-farm, then KWS Firefly is a strong option, but as a Cougar derivative, septoria control using later drillings and appropriate chemistry should always be used.
“KWS Firefly can still be a great choice, particularly in the late drilling slot and it can be safely sown right up until the end of February.
“It is also suited to all regions of the UK, on either light or heavy soils and it performs really well as either a first or second wheat.
“It has got a great grain spec, as well, with one of the best HFNs in the soft wheat category and the correct balance of resistance and extensibility needed for UK and export biscuit markets.”
But the future for KWS and Group 3 is inevitably based on new non-Cougar options, she says.
“Both KWS Guium and KWS Brium have strong yields, good physical grain quality and potential for distilling with specific agronomic properties suiting them to different production scenarios.
“KWS Guium has excellent yield potential at 102% of control in the current RL, is particularly strong in the eastern biscuit growing regions and performs well in the popular second wheat slot, delivering excellent performance when later sown.
“Agronomically, it gets a 9 for yellow rust resistance and is orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) resistant with medium height and stiff straw.
“Grain quality is better than many other Group 3s at 255 HFN and a specific weight of 78.1 kg/hl.”
KWS Brium is a slightly earlier maturing, slightly taller Group 3 than KWS Guium, but its stiff straw ensures safe combining after other varieties have finished, which can help spread workloads significantly at harvest, she adds.
“Importantly KWS Brium brings non-Cougar septoria resistance combined with high yield to Group 3.
Only KWS Barrel and Elicit have non-Cougar resistance at the moment and both these have outdated yields.
“With yield at 100% of control for the UK and good performance in the East and North, it’s ideal as a second wheat with late-drilling potential supported by good mildew resistance at 7 and yellow rust resistance at 9.
“Grain quality is similar to KWS Guium and superior to many other Group 3s at 268 HFN with a specific weight of 77.3 kg/hl.
It also has the potential to capture added value distilling markets.”
In the field Nick Watts, Suffolk
Being one of the few Group 3 winter wheats not to have Cougar genetics was a key reason Suffolk farmer Nick Watts chose to grow 14 hectares of KWS Guium last season.
And because of its success he now has the same area in the ground as a seed crop for the 2022 harvest.
“It has all the right credentials, so there was no reason not to grow it,” says Mr Watts, who farms in partnership with his brother Roger as F.S.Watts and Sons at Framlingham Hall, Framlingham.
With 1,200 hectares of owned and contract-farmed land, they are currently growing 500ha of winter wheat, 200ha of oilseed rape, 100ha of winter barley and 100ha of sugar beet, plus 100ha of vining peas, 80ha of grass, 60 ha of spring barley and 10ha of maize.
“Until a few years ago there was strong demand for Group 3 wheats to export through the Port of Ipswich.
Because that market has declined more of our Group 3 and 4 soft wheat now goes to inland mills, such as Heygates at Icklingham in West Suffolk.
“The soft wheat premium of around £10/tonne provides added value to a crop which is well suited to the land we farm and which we enjoy growing.
Group 3 varieties account for an increasing share of our wheat area, currently about one-third.
The remainder are Group 4 hard varieties.”
Last season the brothers decided to evaluate KWS Guium as a potential replacement for KWS Barrel, another high yielding soft wheat with OWBM resistance which has served them well for many years and remains a mainstay Group 3 choice.
Established crop The crop was broadcast on October 24, later than Mr Watts would have liked and in conditions which he would not have chosen, using just 200 seeds/sq metre, which is low for that timing but reflected the scarcity of seed.
The crop established well, remained standing throughout the season and combined easily during the last week of August, being one of the later crops harvested during what was a frustratingly slow end to the season, he adds.
This year’s crop of KWS Guium is a second wheat drilled on September 28, direct into stubble.
“KWS Guium is not at all problematic to grow, although our independent agronomist, Robert Hurren, does ensure that it receives a robust programme of fungicides and PGRs.
“After 25mm of rain in May the crop looks very promising, and I am hoping that it will yield in excess of our secondwheat average of 9.5t/ha,” says Mr Watts.