Norfolk trial explores the benefits of hybrid wheat

Norfolk trials of hybrid wheat at Stody. Speaking is John Poulton of CROPCO. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk trials of hybrid wheat at Stody. Speaking is John Poulton of CROPCO. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The economic benefits which hybrid wheat can bring to low-yielding farmland were explained to growers at the site of a Norfolk crop trial.

The Stody Estate, near Holt, is hosting one of seven strip trials around the country for new varieties, bred by crossing two carefully-selected lines to create plants which can thrive on marginal land which has historically been poor for growing conventional cereals.

Their traits include vigorous growth, early harvesting, stronger root systems and better resistance to cold, drought and disease.

At Stody, where a large and complex rotation means crops cannot always be grown on optimum soil, hybrid wheats have been adopted in some situations to reduce the chances of failure.

The six-hectare trial, which was drilled on light land after sugar beet, is being used to grow five varieties, two of which are not yet commercially available.

John Poulton of national distributor CropCo said although hybrids are routinely used in other crops – including about half of the UK's oilseed rape – there is very little hybrid wheat grown in this county.

He said: 'In France, 5pc of the total wheat area is hybrid, but in the UK it will be less than half of 1pc.

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'At the end of the day, when somebody suddenly finds a piece of technology that is able to significantly lift their yields and their output, growers become great enthusiasts for it. If you put this (hybrid wheat) in a stressful situation it will outperform traditional varieties, so we are working with a band of farmers to try and identify as many of those situations as we can.'

The firm's UK trials sites range from Exeter to Driffield in Yorkshire, on areas including low-yielding sands, gravels, brash and chalk soils, typically averaging less than nine tonnes per hectare for conventional wheat varieties.

'Typically, what we are looking for is situations where farmers are most challenged, and where they don't currently grow wheat,' said Mr Poulton.

'In those situations, hybrid wheat can be a game-changer. They are a bigger stronger plant with a strong root structure, and because of that they are able to scavenge for nutrients and they have increased drought tolerance. So they get better yields in the right situations – the purpose of the trial is to find out what those situations are.'