Newmarket: Hydrid Wheat trials

FARMERS and seed merchants were able to inspect more than 50 varieties of hybrid wheat at an open day near Newmarket.

The even was hosted by CROPCO on European plant breeding co-operative Saaten Union’s Rosalie Field Station. Saaten-Union has a long term hybrid breeding programme at its research centre in the Picardy region, where thousands of wheat lines are managed.

Hybrid wheat’s popularity continues to grow on the Continent. In France, uptake has been increasing steadily with 2011 seed sales reaching 170,000 ha.

John Poulton of CROPCO said it came into its own when conventional varieties are unable to reach their full potential.

In the UK new varieties are being selected on the basis of performance under UK growing conditions. In France, uptake has been increasing steadily with 2011 seed sales reaching 170,000 ha; around 7% of the certified seed market.

A recent survey of 500 French farmers found that growers rated consistency of yield foremost, as hybrid varieties tolerate difficult growing conditions.

In particular, growers commented on better tillering, improved results in difficult soils, higher yields and greater “robustness”. Overall, a satisfaction index of 95% was achieved. Many farmers had started with just one field and expanded year-on-year to a level in the range of 20 - 34% of their annual wheat production.

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The survey indicated a practical advantage in yield of 0.94 tonnes/ha compared to the farmer’s preferred conventional variety. Independent trials support the farmers’ experience.

Dr Richard Jennaway heads Saaten Union’s UK trials and said: “Hybrid Wheat’s extra vigour or heterosis means it copes better with variable weather conditions, has generally good disease resistance and gives greater consistency. It develops a larger root mass than conventional wheat and can therefore cope with dry conditions and poorer soils. There is some evidence it also survives better in waterlogged land.”

Research on the continent has also suggested there are benefits from limiting early nitrogen to harness the hybrid’s ability to scavenge during early growth stages. UK trials with different N regimes are planned for next season.

Saaten Union’s Hystar was first marketed in the UK by CROPCO for the 2011 harvest season. Over 1500 acres is currently being grown across the country.

Hybrid wheat is the result of crossing two carefully selected wheat varieties. Because wheat is naturally self-pollinating the female parent line is prevented from producing viable pollen by applying a hybridization agent; a product similar to a growth regulator. Alternate strips of male and female varieties are sown to ensure the female line is pollinated and the seed from the female is the commercial hybrid wheat seed.