Increased area predicted for low-risk winter wheat with inherently high protein

Winter wheat varieties with inherently higher protein are seeing growing interest from farmers and agronomists looking to limit fertiliser inputs and reduce their carbon footprints.

Dr Syed Shah, NIAB regional agronomist for the south and technical innovation lead
Dr Syed Shah, NIAB regional agronomist for the south and technical innovation lead

And with spikes in fertiliser, inputs, and energy prices slowly becoming the norm in a fragile marketplace, alternative, more sustainable cropping options are gaining traction.

Nelson winter wheat has high nitrogen use efficiency, with the ability to achieve 13 per cent or more per cent protein with a reduced nutrition programme and it requires fewer fungicide inputs overall, due to its strong disease profile.

Nelson is a ‘low risk’ winter wheat. Varieties with high inherent protein are going to be more readily planted in the UK and Nelson is an important winter wheat which has a naturally high protein and strong disease profile, meaning it’s lower risk for farmers.

Generally, wheat crops require higher nitrogen inputs to boost yield and grain protein. For example, adding 50 kg/ha of nitrogen (N) to a base fertiliser rate of 175 kg of N/ha, will give a yield response of 0.25 t/ha on average.

With a grain price of £300/tonne and nitrogen at £2/kg (prices as of late July 2022), an extra 50 kg/ha of N will cost £100, and with a yield response of 0.25 t/ha, you’re only getting £75/ha back for that extra N.

The example I am giving shows the intrinsic volatility farmers are used to with most cereal varieties. If it’s a dry year, like this one, nitrogen applied to boost protein won’t be taken up by the crop, so any N wouldn’t increase yield or protein.

We should be growing crops with inherently higher protein, and Nelson is performing well in this regard, in fact, it can produce 13.3 per cent – 14 per cent protein in untreated plots.

Nelson isn’t susceptible to yellow rust, or brown rust, so at T0, T1 stage, it doesn’t need a robust input programme, nor does it need a T2 treatment for Septoria, but since it’s a milling wheat, appropriate protection needs to be applied to reduce the risk of fusarium at flowering, especially in wet season.

Dr Syed Shah is NIAB regional agronomist for the south and technical innovation lead

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