Meet the Breeders at CropTec

Elsoms now have an impressive portfolio of high performing Winter Wheat and Winter Oilseed rape varieties. Wheat Breeder Stephen Smith and Oilseed Rape Breeder Mark Nightingale will be on the Elsoms stand at CropTec 2015 on Tues 24th & Weds 25th November 2015 to answers questions about their new varieties along with Energy Crop specialist, Heather Ayre, who has pioneered the introduction of Saaten Union's Turbo Hybrid Rye varieties to the UK's energy crop sector.

With four varieties on the AHDB Candidates list from Elsoms Wheat Ltd, combined with varieties from Saaten Union, Elsoms Seeds is mounting a serious challenge to established suppliers of wheat to the UK market.

Over the last three years Elsoms Seeds has made a major return to the Agricultural Market through Oilseed Rape varieties Trinity and Elgar combined with a strong position in the rapidly expanding hybrid rye market. Elsoms Agricultural business has now made a significant move into the wheat market with 4 of its varieties being promoted onto the AHDB candidates list to be considered for full recommendation in 2016. The varieties have been produced by Elsoms Wheat Limited,  a new plant breeding company formed in 2013 joint as a venture company by Elsoms Seeds with European plant breeders, Nordsaat and Saaten Union Recherché

Bennington, Moulton, Freiston and Dunston are all feed wheat varieties with impressive yields combined with strong disease resistance packages. “These varieties attracted a lot of interest from farmers and agronomists at this year’s Cereals event where they were demonstrated under their variety codes,” commented Adrian Hayler, Head of Elsoms Agricultural Division. “With growing concerns caused by the decline in margins and crop protection products, farmers and agronomists were excited to find a new source of competitive varieties to give them a wider range of options when planning their cropping,” added Adrian. “Their performance in official trials up to that point had been impressive and we are delighted that this has continued,” he concluded.

Elsoms Seeds, has been a long standing breeder of Wheat but took the decision to significantly expand the programme in 2013. At the time Roger Keeling, Elsoms Chairman commented, “Elsoms Wheat Limited will see a major increase in investment into wheat breeding at our Plant Breeding station at Spalding Lincolnshire, putting it in the top league of wheat breeding programmes in the UK, with a budget, genetics and technologies to compete with the leading multinational companies working in the UK.” He went onto explain, “the investment by all three companies enables an expansion of the plant breeding team at Spalding and gives them access to a wide range of plant breeding technologies available from Nordsaat and Saaten Union Recherché, which will enable them to transform our breeding programme to a significantly di-haploid system, increasing speed to market.”

Bennington, Moulton, Frieston and Dunston are very much in the vanguard of an exciting pipe line of new varieties according to Stephen Smith, Elsoms Wheat Breeder. “Bennington, Moulton, Freiston and Dunston were developed from Elsoms own wheat programme, but the financial and technical resources now available to Elsoms Wheat mean that we can be much more aggressive with our breeding and selection programmes as well as potentially being able to cut two to three years off a varieties total development time,” he explained. “Our objective has been to produce a competitive breeding programme by matching the scale of current major wheat breeders in the supply of Group 3 and 4 wheat varieties to UK market.”
Dunston and Freiston are hard wheats with very high treated yields and excellent untreated yields with Dunstons untreated yield being particularly impressive. They both have an excellent combination of all round disease resistance as well as good agronomic characteristics and grain quality. Bennington and Moulton are soft wheats with the same impressive combination of characteristics to Dunston and Moulton in terms of yield, disease resistance and Agronomic characters.
As well as varieties from the Elsoms Wheat plant breeding programme, Elsoms Seeds are marketing the new, very high yielding, early maturing hard wheat, Belgrade. “We are the UK marketing agent for Saaten Union and work very closely with Dr Richard Jennaway, their UK Technical Director, to bring to market varieties which he has trialled and selected at the Saaten Union plant breeding station at Rosalie, Suffolk,” said Adrian. “Belgrade was selected by Richard from Danish Plant breeder Sejet and has done exceptionally well in the AHDB recommended list trials this year, attracting a lot of attention from merchants wishing to be able to supply Belgrade to  their farmers next year,” he added. “Obviously Belgrade’s high yield is its main feature,” commented Richard, “but its combination of early maturity and good resistance to septoria give it a real point of difference over many of the main varieties currently been grown in the UK.”
Anapolis was also selected and developed by Richard at Saaten Union UK and is available to farmers through Pearce Seeds, Hutchinsons and Gleadells. “Despite its excellent disease resistance, especially to fusarium, and good specific weight, it did not progress onto the recommended list,” he commented. “However Anapolis has performed excellently in Pearce Seeds’ commercial agronomy trials, holding onto its excellent agronomical and disease resistance characters but also delivering very impressive and competitive yields.” “Pearce Seeds have had a lot of interest in this is as an ideal variety to follow maize,” said Elsoms’ Adrian Hayler, “but with very large areas of maize now being grown in traditional arable areas for bio energy we have seen interest for Anapolis as a choice to follow maize from farmers in the Midlands and East Anglia,” he added.
Over the last few years there has been a notable increase in the amount of late autumn or spring sown wheat as growers look to improve the management of grass weeds in the rotation. Deciding which variety to grow in these circumstance has often been problematic as the drilling date can be highly variable and unpredictable depending on the weather and hence soil conditions. “Lennox is an alternative wheat from Saaten Union and was introduced into the market several years ago but is proving an ideal variety for the late sown market,” commented Adrian. “Lennox was selected from numerous varieties trialled by Warburton’s for its milling quality,” he explained, “and it continues to perform excellently for them, hence it is available on a buy back contract from Openfield. We have demonstrated Lennox on our stand at Cereals for the last two years and it has attracted a lot of attention from farmers thanks to its combination of the security of a milling wheat buy back contract and a very flexible drilling date.”
With the supply of varieties to farmers now dominated by only a few businesses, Elsoms occupies a unique position as an, independent, family owned business which through working with likeminded businesses has developed strong positions in both the agricultural, vegetable, seed treatment and plant breeding sectors.

New, high yielding , early maturing, Winter Oilseed Rape Elgar attracted very strong sales before harvest this year and then rapidly sold out following stunning results in this years ADHD  trials.

Despite the introduction of high performing hybrid varieties a significant percentage of the UK oilseed rape crop has continued to be produced from conventional varieties such as Charger, Trinity, Picto, Campus, Quartz and DK Cabernet. Whilst there will always be debate about the applicability of the AHDB trialling protocols to a commercial environment and individual farm circumstances, conventional varieties persist in delivering outstanding results both on farm and in the AHDB’s independent trials with, Elgar being the latest, topping the list in this year’s AHDB trials.

There is little to separate the yield performance of the best hybrid varieties from the best conventional varieties; in 2014 conditions favoured hybrid varieties, whilst in 2015 conventional varieties arguably performed as well or better. So why does it appear that there has be a swing back to conventional varieties? David Leaper, Seed Technical Specialist for Agrii, points to a number of factors. “Much slimmer oilseed rape margins have forced the majority of growers to look very hard at why and how they are growing the crop, with variety type being just one of the factors to be re-considered,” commented David. “We have seen a large increase in demand for high oleic low linolenic (HOLL) hybrids as the premiums help to directly address the reduced margins of the conventional oil types,” he said. “For the main oilseed rape crop we have seen a steady demand for conventional varieties, such as Trinity and newer entrants like Nikita and Elgar,” continued David. “Conventional variety yields were again excellent this year, so many farmers were comfortable that hybrids and conventionals could produce a similar output in the good growing conditions that we experienced in 2015,” he said “There was also a significant increase in the amount of barley grown for harvest this year which gave many farmers a much earlier opportunity to get their oilseed rape drilled than in previous years and resulted in the best conventional varieties being selected. This was particularly true in the Eastern counties where had large proportion of the acreage was drilled up by 25th August to counter the threat of flea beetle attack.” concluded David. “ A lot of farmers still have a preference to select a hybrid variety for later sown oilseed rape crops, but on many farms the wheat harvest was too late and quite a lot of rape just didn’t go in.  With margins under pressure farmers have been more cautious than ever to drill late. Most were reluctant to plant after the first week in September in spite of good conditions persisting throughout the month,” he added.  “Consequently, we have seen a stand-on position with conventional varieties, less hybrid in the ground overall and more going into the premium HOLL markets,” David concluded.   

Mark Nightingale, Elsoms Oilseed Rape Breeder, became aware of an increase in interest in conventional varieties as the summer progressed. “We get to talk to a lot of farmers and advisors across the country as a result of the large volume of Trinity grown for harvest 2015, and it was quite clear that many were looking very hard at whether they would grow oilseed rape for 2016 and if so how they were going to do it,” commented Mark. “A few years ago hybrid varieties were widely regarded as being more vigorous, having larger seeds and the ideal choice for late sowings and difficult conditions, but times have changed!” continued Mark. “The advent of new varieties such as Trinity and now Elgar and Skye, have considerably improved conventional varieties in terms of seed size, autumn vigour and plant establishment, providing a real competitive alternative to hybrids,” continued Mark. “In many cases the best conventional varieties are now comparable to hybrids when comparing seed, growing and harvesting costs,” said Mark. “This is particularly the case for Elgar which was the highest yielding variety in AHDB Winter Oilseed Rape RL 1-year - East and West 2015 trials,” he added. “In developing our varieties we have strongly focused our selection on early vigour, stem stiffness, ease of harvesting and strong disease resistance,” said Mark. “Obviously a variety must have a high gross output but Trinity, Elgar and Skye are prime examples of our breeding philosophy,” continued Mark. “A variety only really proves itself once it is widely grown and we have been delighted with the strong performance of Trinity on farm since it was first widely grown for the 2014 harvest with many farmers and advisors making a point to come and give us very positive feedback at the Cereals event this year,” he added. “It is quite clear from the excellent sales of Elgar this summer and the strong interest already received for both Elgar and Skye for next year, that there has been a real sea change in attitudes in favour of conventional varieties,” Mark concluded.

The change in attitudes to conventional varieties became clear to Lee Bennett, National Seed Manager for Openfield, as farmers visited their variety trial days in early summer. “It is fair to say that many farmers were genuinely considering weather oilseed rape was worth growing this year, with the result that seed orders were much later being placed than in previous years,” said Lee. “The one variety to buck this trend however, was the new conventional variety Elgar which rapidly sold out in June as famers and advisors started to look at their options for the 2016 harvest,” commented Lee. “Elgar’s very high yield and oil content obviously is the first thing that grabs the attention, but what has made it a really exciting new prospect was its all-round package of output, agronomy and disease resistance,” said Lee. “With margins now being tight at best, standing power and ease of harvest are of paramount importance in terms of being able to efficiently and economically harvest a high output crop,” he added. “Elgar has an excellent lodging score and its short, stiff straw combined with an upright canopy makes a real contribution to ease of harvesting,” he said. “When margins were very high a few years ago there was a tendency for farmers to overlook weaknesses on disease if a variety had a high enough yield to justify the cost of managing this,” Lee commented. “This is no longer the case however, which is why Elgar particularly appeals, with a combination of very high output and strong resistance to light leaf spot and Phoma,” he continued.  “However, the real stand out characters for Elgar that grabbed farmer’s attention where it’s earliness to harvest and excellent autumn vigour,” continued Lee. “Add these on to the rest of the variety’s characters and you can see why a conventional variety such as Elgar has been so attractive,” Lee concluded.

Although the area oilseed rape is generally regarded to have declined significantly over the last two years, it remains the main break option for most famers. Drastically reduced margins and the consequences of the neonicotinoid ban have sharply focused minds on the economics of growing the crop with many farmers choosing the new high performing conventional varieties as way of managing this to best effect.


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