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15 Jul 2020

How varietal traits can help avert risk

As featured in Arable Farming Magazine

How varietal traits can help avert risk

by Arable Farming July 2020

Five priority grower needs are helping to align future genetic developments for one wheat breeder, in a bid to produce more sustainable variety choices.

Announcing its new Sowing for Peak Performance (SPP) breeding initiative, KWS says focusing on developing functional traits to address future production challenges could deliver greater cost benefits to growers than targeting higher yields.

Knowledge transfer manager Dr Kirsty Richards says: While historically varieties have been primarily judged on their ability to deliver high outputs and physical or agronomic traits have been seen as secondary benefits, the environment in which we will all be producing crops in the future is rapidly turning the tables.

About 80% of the crop production results you see are down to the seed choices you make. You can fine tune this with agronomy and nutrition, but fundamentally the potential of your crop is locked in with the seed you drill.

Actually managing it is the remaining 20%. We cant guarantee what the weather is, but you can choose varieties that will give the most flexibility to deal with whatever youre faced with.

Hopefully by choosing the right variety at the right time youll be in the right position to produce a profitable crop.


Although high yields and the ability to consistently reach market specifications is still critical, other crop characteristics are now becoming important, Dr Richards says.

Traits such as disease resistance, standing power, high vigour to outcompete weeds and late drilling capability already offer growers the means to address many of these issues, but this is just the start.

Specific characteristics to match varieties to cultivation method used, greater levels of in-built resilience to counter more variable growing conditions, stronger physical traits and a greater range of disease resistance available in the future, have the potential to transform the economics and day-to-day management of


KWS has already been doing this to some degree through a number of its current varieties, says product development manager John Miles.

This includes KWS Extase, a variety that has offered growers a level of flexibility they had not seen before, he says.


KWS Extase is a real farmerfriendly variety and growers are drawn to its 95% untreated yield plus 9s and 8s for disease scores.

The loss of CTL is going to put more pressure on other fungicides, but resistant varieties such as Extase are part of the solution.

The need for more flexibility is highlighted by weather data across five sites in the East Midlands during T1 applications (April 15 to May 5) in 2018 and 2019.

The data indicates an average spraying opportunity of 56% across these dates, all based on wind speeds of less than 10mph.

Growing more resistant varieties builds in a bit more flexibility, say Mr Miles.

The same dates in East Anglia indicate an average spraying opportunity of 60% across these dates. Thats another massive risk factored in that variety can help to balance because whatever the weather does or does not do, your yield is protected by strong genetics.

SPP is not a new concept but weve been facing too much risk and the way things are going we need to eliminate every risk we can as easily as we can.

Genetics is one of the easiest ways to do that.

Benefits of SPP

KWS has identified a number of macro-drivers to demonstrate how variety selection using SPP can offer growers potential on-farm benefits and cost savings.

These are:

  • High in-built disease resistance
  • High resilience
  • Flexibility
  • Competitive growth habit
  • Earliness to harvest
  • Good physical/ functional traits

True cost of standing power

Standing power is another trait the economic value of which is easy to underestimate, says Mr Miles.

There is the initial saving on PGRs, but it is not just about the crop falling over or increased harvest costs. There is loss of crop quality and access to potential premiums, and the increased cost of drying to be considered, he says.

One variety to think about in mitigating such losses is KWS Firefly, which has a twin 8 for lodging and a 7 for septoria, plus a combination of rust resistance, giving it a good untreated yield, as well as being the highest yielding biscuit wheat on the Recommended List, he says.

Mr Miles says: Its impossible to put a value on some crop devaluation elements or to estimate definitive yield loss on a per cent lodging basis, but we can look at the impact on grain quality. Were trying to give a taste of what the sum of this could actually be in some situations.

With Firefly, we estimate the greater security in the field, reduced PGR and drying costs, combined with premium retention, is worth about £140/ha.

Sowing for peak performance

Five grower needs that will underpin all future breeding development at KWS:

  • Maximising production/ profitability
  • Effective crop management
  • Achieving optimal crop health
  • Reducing inputs and associated costs
  • Improving productivity from soil

The role of early maturing wheat

As growers move away from solely choosing varieties based on headline yields, one variety which might not otherwise have been considered is Group 4, KWS Parkin, which was a candidate for addition to the 2020/2021 Recommended List but was not added to the list.

Dr Richards says: KWS Parkin is very interesting because, although it doesnt stand out as a top yielder, its other qualities havent been highlighted in the data published.

Its an early maturing variety at -1, which nothing on the list currently is. Its the shortest and stiffest variety available on the market today and is 15cm shorter than the tallest recommended variety.

Parkin also has a balanced disease package and good quality grain, she says.

This earliness makes it a valuable tool on-farm. Thinking back to older varieties suited to early drilling, including Cordiale, Soissons, Gallant and Grafton, these made up about 15% of the market for varieties drilled in 2012, but today on the RL theres nothing below a zero.


When drilled before September 25, RL data shows Parkin yields topped Gleam, RGT Gravity, Graham, KWS Santiago and Skyfall (see chart), she adds.

Thinking ahead to autumn, if farmers are considering drilling earlier because of their experiences last year, it could be quite a useful variety to go with.

However, it has a 5.5 for septoria so it will need a good fungicide programme. But the balance of short and stiff and early to harvest outweigh that when planned in the right place.

For farmers, this makes July combining a real possibility with early wheats such as KWS Parkin and Extase sown in early autumn, says Mr Miles.

July combining days, as long as yields are reasonable, are going to be really valuable.

If Parkin is sown earlier, it could be ready four to five days ahead of other wheats on the farm, he says.

In that time you could harvest 140-175 hectares.


Using anecdotal figures, three days worth of combining, or 60ha cut, with yields of 9.5 tonnes/ha at £150/tonne, equates to £85,500 worth of wheat safe in the barn.

There is a value to early harvest, but when you do the maths, its some big figures.

Looking ahead, with the climate changing, this sort of figure will need to be considered more and more than just out and out yield, adds Mr Miles.

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