A man (and a wheat) for all seasons

WA wheat breeder Iain Barclay in a field of Stretton

A Western Australian farmer is hedging his bets by sowing two wheat varieties together.

The two varieties — Amery and Stretton — both have their own strengths and weaknesses, according to growers. But Corrigin farmer Richard Barrett believes he can have the best of both worlds by sowing a mix of the two.

"Stretton makes up for Amery's lower protein, and Amery compensates for the higher screenings we get from Stretton," Mr Barrett said. "And their different disease characteristics mean that if disease strikes we might lose only half the crop.

"Last year I blended grain from paddocks of Amery and Stretton sown side by side and sold it as a 50/50 shandy mix, as both are hard-grained ASW/APW varieties. This way we achieved 10.5 per cent protein, whereas Amery was only producing 9.9 per cent. This year I plan to sow them together as a mixture. In Europe they blend up to three wheats in this way."

Mr Barrett said that the wider flowering window achieved by sowing a mixture was also a benefit when rain was scarce. "By stretching the flowering window, you can get away with small amounts of moisture over a longer time."

Mr Barrett found that unstable stubble after a harvest was a problem with Stretton. It tended to disintegrate and blow all over the paddock. The variety also produced more screenings than he would like.

Red soils favour Amery

In the north, Dennis Stokes at Three Springs has had mixed fortunes with Amery. In the first year his crop yielded well and had little disease. But last year the crop ran into major problems with Septoria. He believes sandy soils will bring problems of yellow spot and Septorianodum. But in heavier country to the east, he said, growers had magnificent crops of Amery.

"It seems anything with red in it is OK — red clay, red loam," Mr Stokes said. "In years without much disease Amery is a very good wheat. It yields well, and is durable. If it had the leaf disease resistance of Tannin it would be very good.

"But Spear is still our best wheat. It is a magnificent wheat — brilliant, provided it is sown when it should be sown." Mr Stokes' experience has confirmed for him that Spear gives best results when sown at the beginning of May. He says it has a better disease factor than Stretton for the area.

Colin Pearse has grown Amery for three years at Meckering. He finds it a reasonable yielder which only just makes protein levels. "We grow it because it is the only short-season variety suitable for our region," Mr Pearse said. "It has limited herbicide tolerance — we have to manage it very well to avoid damage. But apart from these drawbacks it's not a bad wheat."