August 4, 2021
NEW Variety Ratings Improve Winter Cereal Sustainability
In their first season of use Variety Sustainability Ratings (VSR) developed from the most rigorous scientific assessments of trial data are showing their worth in markedly improving the sustainability of winter cereal-growing across the UK.
Among the most popular winter wheat varieties in 2020/21 – the first season following the introduction of VSRs to the Agrii Advisory Lists – national seed sales figures show almost 60% of company-supplied plantings are in varieties with the highest sustainability ratings. This compares with less than 40% for the rest of the market. Equally, wheats with the lowest ratings comprise just 12% of Agrii seed sales against 20% for the rest of the market (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Autumn 2020 Winter Wheat Sales by Variety Sustainability Rating (VSR)
A similar position is evident in winter barley plantings (analysed on an area basis to account for the major difference in sowing rate between hybrids and conventional seed). The data here show well over half of Agrii-supplied mainstream barleys in the ground have the highest current sustainability ratings with just 5% in the lowest category. Comparable figures for the rest of the market are less than 40% and more than 20% respectively (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Autumn 2020 Winter Barley Plantings by Variety Sustainability Rating (VSR)
“Alongside improving soil structure and health, growing high performance varieties that are better able to withstand disease, more competitive with grassweeds, less prone to lodging and as flexible and resilient as possible in their agronomy is a key fundamental in increasing the sustainability of UK cereal production,” stresses Agrii head of agronomy, Colin Lloyd.
“We developed our annual Advisory Lists to provide the most comprehensive intelligence available on these and other important variety characteristics by bringing together the best intelligence from our own variety testing under commercial growing conditions with data on genetic potential from the ADHB’s Recommended Lists.”
“Based on their relative importance in offering performance reliability, management flexibility and the potential for reducing pesticide use and overall cost/tonne, we combined key character scores for each variety into overall sustainability ratings for the first time in last summer’s Lists.”
Mr Lloyd and his Agrii R&D team took this innovative step to provide a scientifically robust way of demonstrating the overall agronomic strength of each variety, giving farms ways of better narrowing down initial winter wheat and barley choices from the plethora of varieties on offer.
At the same time, they saw the ratings as valuable in allowing their growers and agronomists to set targets to drive future sustainability improvements and benchmark their progress in doing so. And, every bit as importantly, to enable their leading seed business to measure its own progress in steering the industry towards the much greater environmental and economic sustainability essential for the future.
“This season has been perfect proof of this particular pudding,” Mr Lloyd insists. “Our growers are very clearly ahead of the rest of the industry in using both wheats and barleys that are more sustainable in place of those we know to be tougher to manage sensibly and economically.
“It just goes to show how much of an impact we can have on such a key element of sustainability by providing decision-makers with the best possible intelligence at the right time. Which is why we continue to put so much resource into robust variety research, highlighting individual varieties’ specific strengths and weaknesses as well as their overall agronomic value under commercial regimes to enable the most appropriate management.
“It is also why we continually update our Advisory Lists from our trials observations and disease monitoring throughout the season, and are refining and extending our Variety Sustainability Ratings to include new characters like BYDV resistance in wheat as we secure sufficient data.
“Agrii’s over-riding aim is to keep farmers ahead in a fast-changing world. This is exactly what the figures show we are being able to do with our Variety Sustainability Ratings.”