UK seeds manager at Bayer CropScience Adrian Cottey told Milling & Grains that growers faced increasing agronomic and economic pressures and said breeders had to concentrate on developing high yield, disease-resistant strains to overcome the downward trend.
“Breeding and crop protection companies locally and globally need to raise their game to provide adapted solutions. This could be via chemical or biological products, digital farming solutions or novel seed varieties, or an intelligent combination of all these,” he said.
He said there were no obvious “magic bullets” for higher yields and production of consistent, high quality wheat varieties remained an ongoing issue for scientists.
“The challenge is to develop good high yielding, disease-resistant wheat in the short-term and to look at the possibility of herbicide resistant solutions for the longer term to counter the growth in herbicide resistant weeds.”
Room for optimism
Cottey said planting in the UK would remain fairly stable in 2015 but said industry custodians must accelerate the development of resolutions to agronomic problems facing growers, especially the increase in resistant weeds, pests and diseases, as well as the risk of lodging.
“UK winter wheat planting fell by 5% last autumn which was accelerated by poor selling price economics, however crops are well established in the region so there is room for optimism on production levels.”
He said there could be an increase in spring wheat to compensate as growers moved from winter to spring cropping in response to increased grass weed challenge and the introduction of the three-crop rule.
“In the short-term we need good varieties, well adapted to local conditions and developed with strong knowledge of agronomy and crop protection.
“We will use our UK breeding program to test the core characteristics of our EU germplasm, so this high pressure testing will help us identify improved varieties for other countries as well as those suitable for the UK and Ireland.”
Hybrids are key
Cottey said the program’s initial focus was to breed conventional open pollinated winter wheat - important for UK growers - although developing spring wheat and more flexible wheat varieties adapted to specific agronomic conditions was also on the agenda.
Testing parent lines for wheat hybrids across Europe and in the UK was also underway to breed traits with improved flexibility and resilience to volatile climatic conditions.
“We need to improve yield, the consistency of yield, the ability of varieties to cope with tough and variable weather and to be more flexible in sowing date. For this we see the development of hybrids as key,” hesaid.
“In the longer term it will be hybrids, and hybrids with traits, that we expect to be able to tolerate these changing conditions more than the output of today’s line breeding.”