Farming News - Is Bamford redefining the landscape of the UK soft wheat sector?

Is Bamford redefining the landscape of the UK soft wheat sector?

Four leading seed specialists offer their opinion


        With the summer event calendar in full flow and many seed breeders and agronomy groups hosting strip trials, it’s time for arable farmers to get ‘up close and personal’ with new varieties on the Recommended list (RL).

           Without question, Group 3 soft wheat Bamford, one of the most fascinating additions to this year’s winter wheat line-up, has already generated serious attention with its very high treated and untreated yield figures.

Four seed experts assess its credentials and give their verdict:

Kate Armstrong, Seed Manager with Cefetra Limited, first saw Bamford in RL trials last Autumn.

         Kate says” It’s not an exaggeration to say that Bamford was the stand-out variety in last year’s trials. It was miles ahead of the other Group 3’s and actually out-performed most of the Group 4 feed varieties. There’s no doubt it will be at the top of most growers ‘to see’ lists as we go into trials season given it offers them the joint highest yield with the opportunity for a premium.

           “There’s no such thing as a perfect variety, so the fact that it doesn’t have orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) resistance isn’t a major negative for me, as long as growers are fully aware. It’s also worth remembering that many of the most popular varieties on the current RL, for example Dawsum and Extase, don’t have OWBM resistance either so it’s not a barrier to success. Most wheat growers that I talk to spread their risk, so pairing up a non-OWBM resistant variety with one that has resistance is a sensible strategy.

            “The only potential negative I can foresee is that there has been a stigma amongst growers towards Group 3’s in recent years caused by historically lower yielding varieties. However, if growers are able to put aside that negative and focus on Bamford’s strong agronomics and marketability then it’s a variety with a tremendous future.

     “On a personal note, my family - who farm on very fertile fenland soils in Lincolnshire, have often struggled to find varieties that perform consistently well on soil containing high levels of organic matter. With LG Spotlight starting to look outclassed and breaking down on yellow rust, we will be switching to Bamford this Autumn to test its ‘perform on any soil type’ credentials.

        “From a business perspective, Cefetra also see future potential for Bamford as an export variety for Autumn 2025 and beyond” she concludes.

 Duncan Durno, Arable Technical Manager at Openfield, believes it would be wrong to pigeonhole Bamford as a Group 3 wheat.

          He says: “With a yield on par with the highest yielding Group 4 wheats Bamford is an excellent option for any feed wheat grower. Bamford also brings much needed improved agronomics to the soft wheat sector. Its high untreated yield is re-enforced by a 6.7 for Septoria Tritici and it offers good lodging resistant, both of which were lacking in some of the older varieties. Its good grain quality, including the highest specific weight of any soft wheat, also gives growers some comfort in difficult harvests.

    “However, for me, it’s the marketability with potential premiums without compromising either yield or agronomics that makes Bamford a stand-out variety” he adds.

 John Miles, Seed Technical Manager for Agrii, sees Bamford’s arrival as a massive change of fortune for a Group 3 wheat sector which seemed in terminal decline.

          He says “It’s fair to say that Group 3 wheats were dead in the water until Bamford’s arrival. For me, the variety has redefined the landscape for soft wheats to the extent that I no longer think that using Group 3 or Group 4 is the right terminology anymore. There was always a premium for Group 3’s over soft 4’s – that doesn’t exist anymore. And soft 4’s generally had a yield advantage over soft 3’s - and that doesn’t exist anymore either.

           “So, in my head, there is now only milling wheat, high or low quality soft wheat and hard feed wheat. Bamford is the catalyst that has blown apart the traditional definitions of what a soft wheat should be. It’s a vigorous, showy, big biomass variety but I think there’s still a story on when and when not to drill it. That’s were another Elsoms variety, Blackstone – a soft Group 4, would actually fit in very well to Autumn drilling strategies. With its longer drilling window and the OWBM gene Blackstone would actually make an excellent partner for Bamford if drilled earlier, rather than competing against it.

          “Last year, across 15 different regional Agrii trials, Bamford was the overall highest yielding wheat in both our treated and untreated categories, and, given that 2023 was a bad Septoria year, I think those results reflect well on its score of 6.7 – the best Septoria rating for any Group 3. That’s what growers and agronomists should remember as they study this year’s trial plots” he concludes.

Russell Frost, Seed Manager at COFCO International UK, believes the market has been searching for a new, true Group 3 wheat for some years now and that the arrival of Bamford is very timely, if a little overdue.

             Russell says” Not only is Bamford the best Group 3 soft wheat since the halcyon days of Consort and Riband in the 1990’s, its arguably the best winter wheat on the current RL, regardless of classification.

          “Its strong disease profile, backed by a very high untreated yield, is an eye-opener, and, as the industry inevitably moves towards greater sustainability and less reliance on agrochemical inputs, I’d argue Bamford’s agronomic credentials look strong enough to deal with that sea change.

    “If I’m talking to a feed wheat grower this Summer who hasn’t yet considered Bamford for Autumn drilling, I’d simply say grow Bamford as it’s the equal highest yielding winter wheat variety in the UK, it offers you multiple market opportunities to achieve a premium and comes with fewer risks and question marks than many other varieties on the current RL.

       On export opportunities I’d argue that it’s a bit too early to confirm if Bamford is what the European soft wheat market wants, based on the limited grain samples sent to date, but we’ll certainly know more by next year if the 2025 harvest yields a decent surplus for export” he concludes.