Exceptionally warm’ weather tests variety performance

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As scientists report that the unseasonably hot weather that has seen the UK bask in the hottest summer for 40 years could last until 2022, one wheat breeder is urging growers to consult results from this year’s variety trials before switching varieties.

New research, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests 2019 may be even hotter than 2018 and that over the next few years our climate will be “warmer than normal” as we begin an anomalously warm phase.

While the impact of this summer’s heatwave is yet to be fully understood reports so far suggest wheat yields are highly variable with some varieties more affected than others. Yet, despite its impact, Andrew Newby, KWS UK managing director, is urging growers not to dismiss it as an anomaly.

“This year’s trials results are just as valid as those from any other year,” he says.

“The variety assessment process is rigorous for a reason: to assess performance across a range of situations and conditions. The weather is the greatest influence on any variety and growers need varieties able to cope with whatever Mother Nature delivers,” he adds.

Provisional results from this year’s AHDB variety trials suggest this season is proving to be a tough test. If these results are maintained, says Mr Newby, those planning a variety change should think carefully.

“The indications are that several new varieties, often promoted on limited data, are proving to be anything but consistent. In contrast, some of the more established varieties are quietly delivering outstanding yields,” he says.

The reasons for this performance owe much to their breeding heritage, says Mr Newby. A factor he believes will become increasingly important should we see our long-term climate move closer to that seen this season.

“It should not come as a surprise that in a dry year, those varieties bred in the driest part of the country tend to do the best. Plant breeding is a long-term game, breeding varieties with such resilience cannot be done overnight,” he says.

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