Winter Wheat Challenge on the Ground – Weather in SRUC Organised Competition Already Having an Effect

Published Wednesday, 31st October 2012 in SAC Consulting news

Boghall field winter wheat

With planting complete the first Mains of Loirston Winter Wheat Challenge, organised by SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) is underway.

Teams of students and young farmers have made their plans and the battle to grow the most profitable crop of winter wheat next season has begun.

A healthy complement of 19 teams of growers, all under 25, have entered the competition. Invitations were sent to Young Farmers Clubs, students and others across Scotland. This season all but two of the entries are from SRUC students, with a group from East Fife Young Farmers and another from consultants Soil Essentials. Their instructions concerning their crop have been replicated three times on each of three sites in Midlothian, Perthshire and Aberdeenshire.

The Winter Wheat Challenge is designed to encourage the next generation of farmers and agronomists by giving them their own plots of winter wheat to manage during the 2012-13 growing season. SRUC is running the challenge on behalf of the Mains of Loirston Trust, which was established in 2007 by NE Farmer, the late Alexander W Allan who was committed to advancing education in the practice and science of agriculture.

Of the SRUC entries, 12 are from the Edinburgh campus, 4 from Craibstone and 1 from the Riverside campus at Ayr. They involve all four year groups.  The Perthshire plots were sown on 9th October, the Boghall plots the day after, but weather problems meant the NE planting was delayed until 25th October. For each entry the teams selected a variety, seed dressing, seed rates and autumn treatments.

John Elcock, the SRUC Lecturer and competition coordinator, says:

“It is great that all the regions of the country are represented in the event. It will be fascinating to compare their approaches. The teams of first year SRUC students at Edinburgh will be basing part of their course work on their experience of growing a crop of winter wheat, perhaps for the first time.”   

Like every farmer the teams have had to make strategic choices about what to plant. Most of them have opted for lower yielding soft wheats best suited to the distilling market. However some have chosen a variety that could make biscuits if the quality is right, while three groups are trying for the milling premium paid for top quality bread making wheat with varieties Gallant or Solstice.

Steve Hoad, Agronomy Team Leader at SRUC, said:

“There is an interesting and wide range of seed rates chosen by the teams. This is likely to influence how well the crop does after the winter, depending on the conditions. It is certainly going to make for a lot of variation across the plots. It will also be interesting to see which varieties perform best, especially at the later sowing date.”

Scottish crops can achieve world record breaking yields and SRUC trial yields often equate to 13 tonnes per Hectare or more from optimal treatment. However, the combination of pest, weed and disease pressures can halve this, as can misjudging fertiliser inputs.

Next summer, at harvest the plots will assessed for yield and quality with the grain valued according to the market price with the bonus of any quality premiums added. The input costs will then be subtracted to find which team has the best margin.

More information can be found on our Winter Wheat Challenge page or by contacting John Elcock on 0131 535 4048, John.Elcock@sruc.ac.uk.

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