Our vision is founded on our global consultancy work which is helping to enhance variety development through ‘public-private’ partnerships and train a new generation of wheat breeders through its work with a range of partners. On a day-to-day level, AWC works with clients to increase wheat yields on-farm while maintaining quality and optimising inputs.
Focussing on wheat growing in the UK, we have a genuine concern that 2021 will provide a few shocks. It is highly likely that we will see some major yellow rust outbreaks as we have so much wheat in the ground sown with susceptible varieties. Early sowing and a mild autumn have produced the perfect situation for a ‘green bridge, yet we have lost the most effective yellow rust fungicide (epoxiconazole).

Septoria is another concern. While we have improved levels of Septoria resistance in new varieties, this comes from a relatively narrow genetic base and will not be very durable. We have seen resistance severely compromised in Ireland so we should be prepared to protect the varieties in the ground here.

We need to protect both the genetics and chemistry and develop a strategy to conserve both. There has been a lot of talk about the shortage of new fungicidal products coming through a tough regulatory process. We have a similar problem with relatively scarce genetic resistance, so we need to conserve what we have and evolve a long-term strategic plan to protect them.
We have one of the best climates in the world for growing high yields of wheat and ‘Responsible Intensification’ should be our watchword. Wheat diseases thrive in our environment and to date we have achieved high yields of good quality grain through the synergistic use of genetics and chemistry. This should continue in high yield situations.
The more grain we can produce from productive land the more land becomes available for stewardship and environmental schemes. Farmers are the best custodians of our countryside.
On this theme, we are very much involved with selecting varieties for the organic market and work closely with one major end user. To stress that it is not one approach (intensive) or the other (organic) – there is room for both, and we can learn a lot from organic growers in terms of soil quality conservation and crop rotations.
Looking into the future, there are uncertainties over Brexit and how the market will look after this has settled down, but we have some of the best growers, the best environment and some of the most competitive wheat breeders in the World and there is no doubt that the UK breeding community will rise to the challenge and bring in a range of genetics to meet the UK’s end user needs. We can also produce very high-quality wheats to reduce imports – but growers need the financial incentives and the right agronomy support to meet these.
Further down the line, we would like to see a sensible and rational debate about technologies that could help us meet not only our grain output requirements but also our environmental responsibilities. Genetic Modification and Gene Editing are just two examples that need to be evaluated independently. Some new technologies have the potential to help in lower input/organic scenarios.