Listening to the news this week about the launch of the iPhone 10 (or iPhone X as it's going to be known) and the eye watering price at which this new device has been listed, made me think about the annual new wheat variety launch we see in the UK.
I have no doubt that iPhone X will already have a sell out order book as people rush to have the latest mobile phone but for the vast majority of us what will the new device bring over the iPhone 6, 5, 4, or 3? I'm guessing we can still make phone calls, text each other, get on the internet and check our bank accounts etc. all the essential elements we've come to expect from a smartphone. I don't think iPhone X will do any of that 'techy' stuff any better. In other words the basic work is already at its full potential.
In a similar way, when I think about the wheat varieties that have appeared on the AHDB recommended list over the last four years I wonder how many of those new varieties will last long enough for us to see their real potential before we move on to the next 'must have' variety.
How much of their actual yield potential actually lies in our own and nature's hands each season? The mathematical model wheat plant has around 19t/ha potential yield and our responsibility as growers is to try not to lose too much of that potential.
The two world record winter wheat yields in 2015 of 16.5t/ha were grown in very different geographical locations in the UK. Reflection was the variety used in one and Dickens the other. Dickens (which was just slightly higher yielding) was listed two years before Reflection which only appeared on the RL in 2015.
What is more surprising (or perhaps not) is that both of these yields were superseded in 2017 by a yield of 16.8t/ha produced in New Zealand with none other than good old Oakley, first listed in 2007 a decade before we had Reflection.
In trials a few years ago we drilled a range of the latest 'must have' new wheat varieties alongside some of forgotten favourites such as Brompton, Haven, Beaver and Savannah. We subjected them all to the best TLC agronomy we could. Savannah was the highest yielding variety in this trial. I'm sure many growers with a few years under their belts will remember Savannah? This variety was first listed way back in 1995! It was the variety that had a blow up giraffe as a marketing gimmick one year at the Cereals event. It was quite a memorable sight, scores of farmers wandering the event with a small blow up giraffe tucked under their arm!
This highlights how much more genetic potential could be extracted from Savannah now than way back in 1995. With our better developed crop production skills and access to improved crop protection products we're far better equipped to drive crops further.
It is probably fair to say that genetic potential is there for us to extract, what is required is top rate crop production skills combined with the seasonal conditions to allow for the genetic potential our full 19t/ha potential to be realised.
Of course, we are also under pressure from the loss of actives, and traits are likely to become increasingly important in crop production. But I wonder if the top RL yielding varieties launched in 2017 the likes of KWS Kerrin, LG Sundance and Gravity will last long enough to compete for that holy grail of 19t/h or whether I will see the IPhone XX launched with its thought-induced mind reading dialling app first!
Head of innovation knowledge exchange
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