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Norfolk grower Mark Means says his first fully commercial crop of DSV Champion winter wheat is looking good – a year after the Group... New winter wheat delivers for award-winning Norfolk grower

• DSV Champion produces over 16t/ha

• Highest yielding Group 4 for RL 2023/4

• Now grown as part of commercial crop

Norfolk grower Mark Means says his first fully commercial crop of DSV Champion winter wheat is looking good – a year after the Group 4 variety achieved 16.2t/ha in AHDB trials on his farm.

The award-winning farmer has 32ha dedicated to DSV Champion at Terrington Marsh, near Kings Lynn. The variety topped the AHDB Candidate List in 2021/22 and went on to record the highest overall yield on the 2022/23 Recommended List.

As the highest yielding hard Group 4 wheat on the 2023/24 RL,  DSV Champion achieved some 0.9t/ha more than the average of other varieties in AHDB trials grown by Mr Means.

“When it comes to growing wheat, we are quite experimental and being so close to The Wash our focus is on earlier varieties,” he explains.

“Our aim is to grow crops which intercept as much sunlight as possible to maximise yield – but without too much biomass to minimise the risk of lodging on our silty clay soils.”

Being just 3m above sea level, the farm has soil moisture 2m below the surface. Combined with the milder coastal climate, summer temperatures were kinder than some inland areas last year, says Mr Means, helping to fuel exceptional yields.

Mr Means opted to grow a commercial crop of DSV Champion  following positive feedback from other growers – as well as its impressive trial performance on his own farm.

“The AHDB plots were in a field of wheat on silty clay loam following vining peas and drilled on 11 October. Crop treatments followed RL protocols with the objective of no disease and our yields were approximately 10% above the next highest in RL trials.

“Our winter wheat plots averaged 15.33t/ha and DSV Champion achieved 16.2t/ha, which gave me confidence that it would yield well in a commercial situation and I would have no worries about disease.

“We don’t see much Orange Wheat Blossom Midge here but I don’t want to take the risk, so the fact that DSV Champion is resistant is a bonus.”.

Key traits

When selecting winter wheat varieties, Mr Means considers yield and nitrogen use efficiency to be key traits. He aims to achieve 10.5-11% protein for optimum feed wheat yield. .

Another important trait is strong standing power. Yields can fall by  25%  if  a crop goes over. In a normal year, Mr Means aims to apply 200-240kg N/ha on feed, second and continuous wheats.

“Applying nitrogen early in the spring it is like lighting a bonfire – once it goes on and the crop gets going you can’t stop it, but just have to guide it as best you can.

Reducing risk

“We have an N-sensor on our sprayer, use a nitrogen tester to prevent over-application, and we map for high and low lodging risk.  We treat accordingly but sometimes things happen that are outside our control.

“We are increasingly looking to grow more continuous wheat. Some of our fields have a high clay content. The soil is too heavy for potatoes and the harvest window for lifting sugar beet is too short.

Rather than risking long-term damage to soil structure by growing potatoes or sugar beet, Mr Means says winter wheat is the best cultivator and subsoiler for his farm.

“Our aim is to create rooting structures which are as deep and adventurous as possible to maximise the opportunity for the plants to access nutrients and water.”

It makes sense to focus on feed wheat varieties while minimising road miles, adds Mr Means.

“We are better placed than most, with large feed mills on our doorstep and milling outlets not too far away at Holbeach, Peterborough and Downham Market.

Breeding programme

Although DSV is a relative newcomer to winter wheat breeding, Mr Means believes the company has a very promising programme.

“Theodore, a hard Group 4, was the first DSV variety we identified as a potential to grow because of its cleanliness and ability to remain green to maximise sunlight capture, the only reason we didn’t grow was its bushel weight.

“Being next to the sea we are always looking to protect against fusarium and if we can, it reflects positively on bushel weight.

“DSV Champion has really taken the game on several stages.”

Mr Means was named Sustainable Farmer of the Year at the 2022 British Farming Awards.

Judges praised his farming strategy – including improvements to soil organic matter, rainwater harvesting and use of renewable energy.