Variety Trials for Organic Wheat

First year of variety trials showed how winter wheat fared under organic conditions

The field lab took place on Bradwell Grove Estate in Oxfordshire and tested how 17 conventional, heritage and some new European varieties performed on organic land. "It can be really challenging selecting the right wheat seeds for an organic farm as such little research has been recorded," said Charles Hunter Smart, farm manager at Bradwell Grove. "Most research is carried out in non-organic conditions with the untreated controls only missing out on the chemical fungicides and growth regulations, leaving fertiliser and weed control the same as any other conventional crop – so it is a completely unclear picture for an organic farmer."

The trial, which is was led by farmers from an AHDB benchmarking group along with the Organic Research Centre and sponsored by AHDB, found several varieties performed better than others in organic conditions. Assessments included disease susceptibility, protein levels, yield and growth characteristics, which provide valuable insight to farmers on variety choice. All varieties will also be assessed at a mill for bread making potential. 

In terms of yield, a European variety Mortimer performed particularly well, whereas Zyatt and Anapolis were both significantly lower yielding. Heritage wheat variety Maris Widgeon performed as well as commonly grown varieties like Skyfall and Revelation, both in terms of yield and protein levels.

Grain Yield of the tested varieties - bars indicate the mean, error bars indicate the standard error of the means:

Key findings:

  • Mortimer was highest yielding variety, although at a higher rate of seeds planted per hectare than the regular trial. Experimental variety AWC13 was also drilled at higher seed rates - these both yielded better than low rate plots, possibly down to the dry year.
  • At standard seed rates, Gleam, Graham and Crispin produced the highest combined yields of grain and protein
  • Zyatt and Anapolis were the lowest for harvested protein yield. (Standard seed rate.)
  • There was little disease pressure with all varieties showing low levels of Septoria. Crusoe had some Brown Rust, and Skyfall was the only variety exhibiting any Yellow Rust.

Grain protein is important for wheat, particularly milling wheat but also as an ingredient in animal feedstuffs, however protein yield is always at expense of grain yield. The trial has looked at protein percentages but also looked at which varieties produced higher yields of harvested protein and see whether any produce outside of the normal rules.

 

A similar trial is being carried out commercially on organic land by Cope Seeds & Pearce’s Seeds, and those results will also be compared to those from the Innovative Farmers field lab.

The field lab will be continuing next year to carry out further investigations and confirm the year one findings. There will be a further replicated variety trial and small areas of selected varieties will also be grown on other farms at a field level using farm machinery to look at more regional variety effects. The plan is to expand the group by getting more farmers involved by looking at spring wheat and Barley varieties.

Charles' Analysis

"This field lab has been really interesting as we have found significant differences in both yield and protein levels when these seeds are grown under organic conditions. But it’s important we have more trials on different soil types as on another soil you’ll get a different result, which is why I’m keen to help and provide insight on how they grow in our own Cotswold brash soils. Now we have the start of some scientific results that will hopefully help us to have confidence in the wheat varieties we are selecting.”

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