Demo Field tour part 3 – Alternative Cereals & Late drilled wheat

Publish on July 1, 2024
Reading time : < 1 min
We joined managing director Lee Bennett on one of his many tours, which illustrated the broad range of research on show and, of course, some of the most promising varieties emerging from RAGT’s advanced breeding programmes. Here are some of the highlights.

Spring wheat programme unveiled








RAGT’s UK spring wheat breeding programme, which was revealed at the open day, aims to provide more reliable ‘alternative’ wheat varieties, which can be sown from autumn through to spring to help growers better manage their drilling schedules.

After just six years of behind-the-scenes work, the programme is already producing spring wheat that looks more like its winter counterpart.

“Traditionally, spring wheat produces very few tillers so you need to sow  500-600 seeds/m2 to obtain a decent ear population,” Lee explained. “We want a phenotype that is more akin to winter wheat, so you can use winter-wheat style sowing rates to produce a similar canopy style and ear count, but with a massive elongation of the sowing window.

“We want varieties with no vernalisation requirement that you can sow from autumn and right through into April.

“They would be a good fallback in wet autumns but they should also deliver in their own right, for example where growers are managing blackgrass or rotational constraints. It’s something that is really starting to figure for us.” 

Late-drilled wheats

Skyfall remains the winter wheat to beat when it comes to late drilling, judging by plots at RAGT’s site that include claimed late sowers from other breeders.

Plots were drilled on the last day of March, well beyond accepted cut-off dates to provide the ultimate late-sowing test. All plots will be ear-counted and will be taken to yield.

“It will be interesting to see which make it into ear and produce an acceptable margin,” said Lee. “We advocate planting Skyfall, which has the lowest vernalisation requirement of all RL winter wheats, to about the 10th of March.

“You won’t find any Skyfall seed anywhere this year until harvest – most was sold last autumn and when spring seed ran short everyone wanted the variety. It is still it’s still the biggest Group 1 variety there is.”

New oats to challenge the market








An expanding oats market looks set to provide some good opportunities for established and new growers alike, and RAGT has some strong contenders in the winter and spring oats sectors.

“The market is definitely growing and the new Navara oat milling plant at Kettering is talking big tonnages,” Lee explained. “The customer is king when it comes to oats. It’s all about quality – kernel content, specific weight, screenings and hullability.”

RAGT has one of only two winter oat breeding programmes in Europe, he added. “Our newest variety, RGT Dempsey, has the highest kernel content and the highest specific weight of all, as well as plenty of yield, very stiff straw and fantastic crown rust resistance.

“Mascani from Aberystwyth has been in the market for 18 years and has 78% market share, but it is very low yielding. There’s a massive opportunity for oats and the world is ready to move on.”

Spring variety RGT Vaughan was launched last year and was snapped up by organic growers. “Disease resistance is exemplary and grain quality is very good,” Lee said. More seed will be available next spring, and a further three varieties are following on;

Specialist barleys

RAGT’s first winter barleys, a two-row malting type and a two-row feed, both with BYDV tolerance, are getting close to market.

“We’re starting to engage with end-users looking for special traits,” Lee said. “We used to have a massive winter malting barley programme in the UK, but it’s pretty much been replaced by springs.

“It still exists, but you have to get the varieties that function for the end user. We are looking at non-GN winter varieties that distil. We’ve never had a commercial winter barley so it’s quite nice to be near to launching this sort of material.”

Meanwhile RGT Asteroid, RAGT’s high diastatic power (DP) spring barley variety, has found a niche market with heavy-land growers in East Anglia.

“High DP malt is used to create enzymes for whisky made out of other grains, mostly wheat,” said Lee. “The more nitrogen you can get into it, the more enzyme you produce.

“We tried RGT Asteroid in Scotland but couldn’t get the nitrogen level we needed. It’s now grown extensively in East Anglia on London clays. Its malted by two of the biggest national maltsters who ship the malt to Scotland and the Nordic countries.”

Winter triticale – the new AD feedstock?








Biogas cropping is currently dominated by maize and rye, but winter triticale is gaining ground.

It has higher energy levels than rye, and has a much wider sowing window, making it easier to grow. And there is concern over maize due to legislative pressure on Korat bird repellent seed dressing, and the view is that its last season could be 2027.

“AD operators they are priming themselves that they might need alternative feedstocks,” said Lee.

“For the past two years we’ve has been working with a biogas company that’s been saying rye has not been really working for them – they want to give triticale a try. They have been using our new variety RGT Eleac, and it’s made rye look a bit sick.”

RGT Eleac has a 9 for yellow rust and very stiff straw and was added to the Descriptive List this season. Another variety, RGT Rutenac, which was registered this spring, looks even more promising, with more biomass and higher yield.

RAGT is carrying out on-farm trials in Kent comparing rye and triticale for AD, he added. “The crops will be taken to harvest and we’ll have all the stats and information to make some really meaningful comparisons.”

To read the following article of Demo Field tour please click here.

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