Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
         Three crops of Crusoe milling wheat grown by three different growers claimed the top three positions in the latest Yield... Clean sweep for Crusoe milling wheat in YEN awards


Three crops of Crusoe milling wheat grown by three different growers claimed the top three positions in the latest Yield Enhancement Network competition.

Breeder Limagrain said the victory was welcome recognition for the Group 1 variety which has established itself as a favourite among growers and millers due to its consistent yield and quality performance across different seasons.

First place for harvest 2023 went to Richard Budd, of Stevens Farm (Hawkhurst Ltd). Mr Budd grows 220ha of Crusoe in Kent and Sussex. The farm’s focus is on quality Group 1 and 2 wheats for local mills and export markets.

“We’ve only been growing Crusoe for three or four years,” says Mr Budd. “So far, it has served us well. It’s yielded well, is relatively clean and easy to manage, stands well and has a good specific weight, protein, and Hagberg. It’s a solid, stable variety.”

Milling premiums

With milling wheat premiums touching £72/t over feed earlier this year, and predicted to stay firm for the foreseeable future given tight European supplies, Mr Budd is cautiously optimistic for the 2024 harvest, despite a challenging start to the season.

“Admittedly, I’d like an extra 5% yield, but I understand UK flour millers may be less keen on that due to the potential protein dilution. We do need some new genetics in the Group 1 sector, but at the moment, Crusoe is our default variety.”

Mr Budd recognises the importance of early nitrogen to support tillering and biomass accumulation, Tissue testing is then used to refine later applications according to crop requirements.

He has seen good results from applying two large splits of 80-90kg N/ha when conditions allow in February – and again in late March or early April.

Disease status

Mr Budd’s nutrition strategy is supported with a robust, preventative fungicide programme, tailored to disease pressure around each spray timing and varietal resistance. His aim is to keep upper and lower leaves free from disease as long as possible, rather than relying solely on the flag and leaf two to build yield.

“With our direct/ strip-till system, we find that if we can keep leaves 3, 4, and even 5 and 6 relatively clean throughout the year, they are still contributing quite a lot to final yield, right up to cheesy ripe stage.

“That said, we’re not applying maximum rate fungicides all of the time; decisions are guided by what’s there at the time, and varietal choice. I like Crusoe; it is a relatively easy, clean variety, with good Septoria scores, and yellow rust is non-existent really.”

Late-season brown rust is something to watch out for in some years, but even that is relatively easy to control, with a good range of chemistry available, he notes. “As an industry, we need to be looking more at genetics rather than a can.”

Grain protein

Norfolk Crusoe grower Chris Eglington, who won gold in the 2022 YEN Milling Wheat Quality awards, claimed silver with Crusoe for harvest 2023. He recorded the highest grain protein of 13.7% and 78.2 kg/hl for his 10.5t/ha crop.

Mr Eglington says he valued Crusoe’s performance in what was a tricky 2023 season. “Yes, it’s been around a while now, but it’s great to have a variety that we know how to manage and know will perform well.”

Last year’s wheat crop followed oilseed rape.  land cultivated using an 8m Väderstad Carrier prior to drilling on 14 September, then rolled and a residual herbicide applied.

Variable rate potash, lime (where required) and nitrogen applications are used across the farm, and he has worked closely with grain buyer Camgrain, and in the past with Sainsbury’s, to optimise nitrogen inputs and protein.

Given the exceptionally wet autumn and winter on residual soil levels, nitrogen management could be more challenging this spring, says Mr Eglington. “We’re already towards the top of what we can apply in terms of nitrogen, so I don’t think our programme will change drastically.

“We’ve always had the highest yields in years when we’ve managed to get nitrogen on early, and fortunately we did manage to apply the first lot of nitrogen during a narrow window in early February, and might apply some more in early March, depending on how the crop looks.”

Typically, first wheats receive a total of 280kg N/ha, applied as four splits of solid granular fertiliser, sometimes supplemented with a small amount of liquid urea towards the end of the season (June), to help build grain protein if required.

Regular tissue testing is also used to adjust the nitrogen programme according to crop need.

‘Go-to’ variety

Having confidence in a variety’s ability to regularly achieve milling specification is vital for Suffolk farmer Edward Vipond, who took third place with a crop of Crusoe in the 2023 YEN awards for milling wheat.

He says Crusoe has become the “go-to” variety in the first wheat slot at the 1,400ha Troston Farms, near Bury St Edmunds. The farm grew 160ha of Crusoe last season, and has increased this to 224ha for 2024.

“When you’re spending a lot of money on fertiliser to obtain a milling premium, applying 270-280kg N/ha for example, you need confidence that the crop will deliver in terms of protein, and Crusoe does that.”

Protein is as much down to the variety’s genetics as how you manage it, adds Mr Vipond. Crusoe seems more consistent than other milling wheats grown on the farm, he says. “For us, even at yields of 10.5 t/ha, it will still regularly obtain 13.3-13.5% protein.”

Last season’s wet summer did pose challenges for protecting quality, with milling wheats prioritised for harvesting slightly earlier than they might have been in a drier year, explains Mr Vipond.

This raised a few issues with thrashing on the combine, resulting in some unthrashed tips in the grain sample, but he insists the benefits of hitting milling specification far outweighed any drawbacks.

“There aren’t that many other competitors in the Group 1 list at the moment. There are one or two coming in, but they’re yet to be proven and have got to do something special to knock Crusoe off. Crusoe suits our land and it delivers.”

Mr Vipond says flexibility is key to getting the best from any crop, particularly in terms of drilling date, seed rates, nutrition and other inputs. He generally drills Crusoe in early October to reduce BYDV risk, opting for seed rates of around 325-350 seeds/m2.

There is no fixed cultivation or drilling strategy though, instead the farm opts for whichever equipment suits conditions at the time. “Every session is different, so we do what is required.”

Some fields after potatoes or onions, for example, are established with a plough and combination drill, while others may receive a non-inversion deep tine (eg Sumo Quatro) before drilling with a disc or tine machine.

“Yield is still king, and if you can get decent yields of good spec milling wheat at a premium of £50-60/t, the return is still there. With the results we had from Crusoe last year, what’s not to like?”