Our thinking behind starting F1 Seed Ltd was that we felt that it was important for wheat breeding to have a strong UK-owned breeder in the marketplace, and we could see gaps in wheat development we could fill. Wheat is very much grown as a commodity, but it is more than that – wheat varieties are contributing to genetic solutions on farm.
We have a different philosophy and strategy to the big multinational breeders. While recognising that size often does matter in determining success, we have one advantage- that of flexibility. We don’t have a large infrastructure and cost base or a long decision-making process. If needed we will make quick decisions in response to changing situations in the field or in markets.
We have a field-based approach to breeding – it is important to spend as much time there as possible because a breeder’s field is an Aladdin’s cave of exciting material.
It would be good to see our varieties feature on the Recommended List in the future, but it is not the sole measure of success. We are more concerned about meeting growers’ aspirations – the views of growers are important, and consequently spend a lot of time listening to growers. The other side of the equation is that end users are the real key to a variety’s success in the marketplace – varieties need to be pulled through the market not pushed.
Looking at genetic solutions, hybrid wheat is very much the ‘Holy Grail’ of wheat breeding. It has been a challenge to get hybrid wheat to work, but we now have so many exciting technologies available that we did not have before. It has to be every wheat breeder’s objective to be able to say that they helped change the wheat world in developing hybrids.
Hybrid wheats can produce many of the key requirements for UK growers, but they can only ever be part of the genetic mix on farm. Although they produce more biomass and are more resilient than conventional wheats, they are unlikely to replace wheat in very high yielding situations. But as second wheats, and in lower input regimes, they could have a big future. Again, it is the strategic use of genetics on farm.
Spring wheats received a lot of attention last year with so much winter wheat not drilled. It is very much a Cinderella crop in terms of breeding – but it can play a really important role in black grass control. We would like to return the crop to the halcyon days when it had excellent quality. If we can get this right, we can reduce our dependency on high quality wheat imports.