Seed,Crop Production,Wheat

Hybrid wheat will give higher output under stress – but at a cost

11 September, 2018
Hybrid wheat has been available commercially in the UK for a number of years. It is grown quite extensively in mainland Europe and varieties from Saaten Union have been sold in 29 countries and sown across more than three million hectares since their introduction in 1994. In the UK these Saaten Union products, currently the only commercially available varieties, are marketed through Elsoms. However a number of other breeders are close to producing their first varieties for entry into National List trials.

Like most hybrid seeds there is a greater cost of production and hence a greater cost of seed, irrespective of production methods. That cost is therefore greater than conventional varieties, so hybrids need to demonstrate advantages either in terms of their agronomics or yield...or both.
What appears clear from the results to date is that in good growing conditions the best currently available hybrids will produce yields comparable with mainline conventional varieties. However, hybrid wheat plants are able to cope with stressful conditions better and where they are planted side by side in such conditions, they can produce significantly better outputs when compared with conventional varieties.

Data from Saaten Union indicates that hybrid wheat plants have a bigger plant biomass both above ground and, in particular, in the root structure. This helps the plant cope with periods of drought or waterlogging and high disease pressure. They also display greater Nitrogen efficiency. Despite drilling at a lower seed rate, hybrids compensate lower plant density with a greater ear population and higher ear fertility; this again is particularly noticeable in unfavourable situations.

Therefore, the growers that are most likely to see benefit from a hybrid wheat are those that have suffered most with the particularly dry weather or have struggled to keep on top of disease. If you are considering growing hybrid wheat for the first time, it is important to compare the results from a conventional variety alongside those from the hybrid. This will enable you to see how they perform under your own land and management.
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