The milling sector is having a tough time of it currently, with difficult cropping seasons, the threat of import tariffs, transition to the Environmental Land Management scheme and the potential loss of urea all casting shadows.
Milling wheat growers are also having to contend with ageing varieties – the last Group 1 addition to the AHDB Recommended List (RL) was KWS Zyatt back in 2017 – and an erosion of yellow rust resistance, which has seen the ratings of Skyfall and KWS Zyatt fall.
So, news from plant breeders that there is little new material in the quality wheat pipeline for the next two to three years, will do nothing to lift the spirits.
However, with the variety demo season underway, there is evidence in the ground that plant breeders are continuing in their quest for new breadmaking varieties and in the short-term are considering some novel solutions to bridge the gap.
Opportunity Visitors to the Elsoms Seeds trials ground at Cowlinge, Suffolk, will have taken the opportunity to check out potential Group 2 variety Mayflower from the Elsoms Wheat breeding programme.
A candidate for the 2022/23 AHDB RL, Mayflower was bred by the programme’s French partner ASUR.
Elsoms Seeds head of agriculture Paul Taylor describes it as a Graham x Extase type that is ‘exactly right for the moment’.
He says: “It won’t be a Group 1, but its quality could be of the Cordiale mode. We think it is about the same yield-wise as Extase.”
Mayflower stands well, tillers well and is clean, adds Mr Taylor.
The variety is also being assessed within Agrii’s Variety Sustainability Ratings programme.
In addition to its potential RL pipeline, Elsoms, in conjunction with its Elsoms Wheat partner Saaten Union, is also assessing the potential for the UK market of a range of German A and E wheats.
This season is the first the company will produce domestically-grown samples for testing by millers.
Mr Taylor says: “What the millers have told us is that we are not going to get an English 13% white sliced loaf from French or German wheats because the characteristics they select for are different.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do stuff with these varieties, because we don’t bake straight varieties.
It’s about what they bring to the grist.
This [harvest’s results] will be the first UK set of results for all these different varieties.
Some of them are yielding pretty much at the level of feed wheat.”
A total of 16 varieties are being compared, including upcoming German A wheat Lemmy.
There are also four coded lines from Elsoms Wheat partner Nordstaat.
Andrew Creasy, of Saaten Union, says: “They are all at the moment potentially As.
One is a year ahead of the others and, based on German data, the quality looks good; it has orange wheat blossom midge [OWBM] resistance, good standing and is good for disease.”
Different approach Mr Taylor adds: “We are risk-managing [these varieties] by testing them here and then the conversation will be progressed with the miller, the merchant and the farmer.
It’s a different approach but I think it is one we’ve got to take to fill this gap in the breeding cycle at present.”
Over the border into Cambridgeshire, amid a series of code-numbered plots on the RAGT trials ground, is possibly the first UK milling wheat with both OWBM and barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) resistance.
Following the addition of BYDV-resistant Group 4 feed wheat Wolverine to the AHDB RL for 2021/22, an ‘insecticide-free’ breadmaking wheat could be within three years of the market, according to RAGT managing director Lee Bennett.
“We have in development the first tranche of BYDV- and OWBM-resistant varieties in a Group 1 background.
We have more than one, so we will be able to offer a range of qualities.
It’s the millers’ call – they won’t consider anything unless it bakes, but we are revving ourselves up for insecticide-free breadmaking wheat,” he says.
Cereals and oilseeds product manager Tom Dummett shares the view that there will be nothing new in Group 1 for at least two years.
“We are stuck with what we have got for at least two years.
There is nothing from anybody coming through that is a straight Group 1.
We’ve got what we’ve got.”
Direct comparison RAGT’s other RL Group 1 variety RGT Illustrious has enjoyed less success than its stablemate and has suffered as a result of direct comparison with Skyfall, adds Mr Bennett.
“It doesn’t work anything like Skyfall,” he says.
“If you just want to grow a Group 1, grow Skyfall because it will work.
You’ve got rust to manage, but it will work.
“To get the most out of it Illustrious needs to be on stiff ground.
If you put Illustrious on light soil where Skyfall excels, you are going to have a disaster and I feel that is what a few people did.
“It’s one of those varieties for which you need to read the can.
My advice has always been to grow it like a second wheat even if it’s a first.
“It has top end flour quality.
Read the can, get it on heavy soil, up your seed rate a little bit, manage it as you would a second wheat and it’s a brilliant wheat. But if you are on medium to lighter textured ground, it’s not going to work for you.”
German E wheats also feature in the RAGT plots at Ickleton.
Millers want the grist German E wheat brings, without the Brexit tariff worries, which opens up opportunities for domestically-grown, German-quality bread wheat, grown on contract, says Mr Bennett.
Among this season’s RL candidates, RAGT has RGT Flintoff, a potential Group 2.
Mr Dummett says: “It’s up against Extase.
So, yes, it has got to yield.
Yes, Extase is extremely clean.
In Flintoff we’ve got improved disease resistance over Skyfall but what it also brings is the advantage of OWBM resistance.
That’s rated as very high importance on the RL, so that might give it enough of an advantage, even if it is 1-2% lower yielding.”
RGT Flintoff also had the low vernalisation requirement character of Skyfall.
“Breeders rate this character on a scale of one to 100, 100 being essentially a spring wheat, with no vernalisation requirement and 0 being it needs as much as possible.
Skyfall on that scale is rated 88, Flintoff is 100; it is essentially a spring wheat in a winter background, so it is suited to that winter slot but has the possibility of being sown late,” he adds.