RGT Illustrious – a true breadwinner in a surprisingly good harvest

Publish on May 26, 2023
Reading time : < 1 min
RGT Illustrious is seeing a resurgence in popularity among some milling wheat growers, something which comes as no surprise to Cambridgeshire farmer Luke Palmer, who has been growing the variety for eight years.

Luke is a real RGT Illustrious enthusiast, thanks to the variety’s ability to compete with barn-filling feed varieties whilst securing valuable milling premiums on FC Palmer & Sons’ fen soils, in Stretham, near Ely.

“For many years we have compared growing just feed wheat, so I’ve considered all sorts of varieties with that in mind,” says Luke. “But I keep coming back to RGT Illustrious because it yields as well, if not better, than these other varieties.”

He’s unsure why the variety, which boasts Hereward-like quality and good agronomics, has not gained more of a following since being fully recommended in 2016.

“I was Hereward grower for years, and I was looking for the next variety to take that mantle on. I started growing it as a seed crop a while before it was listed, but I do like growing milling wheat and RGT Illustrious is one of my favourites.

“It can compete on low nitrogen usage and has excellent milling potential. It holds its Hagberg in changeable weather, more so than anything else, which allows us to have a protracted harvest in inclement weather, so that’s a good insurance policy.

“To me, RGT Illustrious is the forgotten milling wheat that is very good in a lot of situations.”

Luke grew around 180ha of the variety last season, drilled between mid October and the end of November, including 65ha of pre-basic seed, 45ha of C1 to C2 and 70ha of commercial RGT illustrious after different crops.

The variety outperformed all expectations in one of the strangest years Luke can remember. “Like a lot of people, we’ve seen some incredible yields that none of us can really understand.

“We missed nearly all the rain – it’s been tinder dry most of the season. And we put less fertiliser on this year than ever before, but we’ve had better yields. I can’t explain it.”

Despite this the RGT Illustrious has beaten the three-year farm average for all wheats by around 3t/ha. “That was more of an uplift than we saw with anything else – our best Group 4 yielded 1t/ha less.”

This was despite using very low rates of nitrogen. This was nothing to do with the price of nitrogen, but was based on green area indices in early spring and tissue analysis at key points during the growing season.

Luke applies Actyva S, a granular NPKS fertiliser, in the spring, supplying 30kg of N and readily available P and K and sulphur to get plants going. “We then monitor crops and decide what it needs.

Additional nitrogen is applied as liquid, varied across all varieties and again using a plethora of technology to adjust requirements. The milling crops received an additional 70kg/ha of N, while some fields destined for seed had just 30kg/ha all season.

Some protein dilution was seen in the milling crops, but most achieved 12.5%, enough to be accepted with fallbacks “I was feeding for a projected 8.5t/ha crop, so the variety has done really well.

“We’ve seen a really flat response to fertiliser inputs on Illustrious this year, which is really strange. RAGT’s production manager Steve Brown and I tried to evaluate its performance, looking at the crops it was following and different rooting, but I can’t really put my finger on it.

“I wonder if it is a variety that likes long, hot sunny days. Otherwise, I’m at a loss to explain why. Even the crops that followed turf, which is usually a difficult crop to follow have done exceptionally well.

“We do put on very early Moddus mixes to promote rooting in our crops, it allows them to go for advantageous rooting. I’m a firm believer that good rooting will allow a crop to go hunting for nutrients. But how much this contributes I don’t know.”

RGT Illustrious has remained resilient to disease over the years. “We struggle to get it dirty in our fungicide trials, even when crops around it are looking filthy,” says Luke. “It’s a cheap milling wheat to grow if you get it right. Rust can bite us, and we do get mildew and eyespot but it’s good on all those diseases.

“I’m not saying this is how to grow Illustrious, and we may not do so again. But we are using as much tech as we can to manage that crop. As long as it keeps producing, I’ll keep growing it.”

RGT Illustrious

• Excellent disease resistance
• Top quality Group 1 milling wheat
• Popular with millers
• Widley accepted for UK grist
• Consistent performer
• Pch1 eyespot resistance

* Go to www.ragtseeds.co.uk/news for more harvest news on RGT Illustrious and other RAGT varieties.

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