Scotland’s cereal sector may be small but it is a key target for plant breeders who value the long life that varieties have, thanks to a unique mix of grower expertise and market pull.
Speaking at a recent briefing in Edinburgh, Simon Howell, managing director of RAGT Seeds, said plant breeding companies needed commercial longevity in their varieties to help fund research and development of new material.
Although Scotland’s cereal area is relatively small, accounting for about 460,000ha of the UK’s 3.1m ha total, varieties tend to have a longer lifespan than the three to four years typically seen south of the border.
Concerto spring barley, for example, was recommended in 2009 but remains a firm favourite among growers, as does soft wheat Leeds, recommended in 2014.
“if you can get a variety established in Scotland it is likely to be around a lot longer. Once farmers are confident in a variety’s genetics, they trust that variety,” said Mr Howell.
“To break into the Scottish spring barley market, we have to find varieties that deliver high yields but with Concerto’s quality. As breeders, we are all striving for that quality – farmers need varieties that can have a ready-made home.”
A newly recommended spring barley from RAGT could fit the bill, said Mr Howell. RGT Asteroid is creating strong interest in the seed trade and among end users in Scotland, and is under test for malt and grain distilling as well as brewing.
This, makes it the only variety on the 2018 RL with the potential to suit all three end markets, said Mr Howell.
The variety is not the highest yielding on the list, but is 9 points ahead of long-standing favourite Concerto and close to Laureate, the two varieties that will take most of the malt distilling barley area this season.
“Like Concerto, RGT Asteroid produces good quality grain with a high hot water extract, but delivers significantly higher yields in the field,” said Mr Howell.
Distillers will carry out micro-tests on grain harvested in 2018, with results expected in spring 2019.
RGT Orbiter, another pipeline variety on the Candidate list this season, also looks promising for distilling and brewing. It has similar grain quality to RGT Asteroid and equally robust disease resistance, but even higher yields, said Mr Howell.