Keywords: wheat, oilseed rape, yield, varieties, plant breeding, nitrogen, fertiliser
The UK’s major arable crop, winter wheat, doubled in area to 2 million hectares during the 1970s at the same time as undergoing an increase in average yields from 4.5 to 8.0 t/ha. This has been attributed to improved varieties, greater use of fertilisers and better crop protection. Oilseed rape is a relatively new crop which expanded rapidly from a few thousand hectares in 1970 to the current area of 600,000 hectares today, with comparatively static yields of around 3 t/ha. Both crops are the subject of intense breeding and variety testing effort with wheat varieties improving yield potential by 0.5% per annum and oilseed rape by 2%. These improvements are not currently being reflected in commercial yield trends. Both crops receive approximately 200 kg/ha , having remained at this level for over 25 years in the case of wheat and having progressively reduced to this level from 275 kg/ha in the early 1980s. Recent evidence from field trials and commercial cropping is considered and, while acknowledging the importance of the ‘sustainability’ agenda, a case is argued for a new approach for variety selection under higher nitrogen inputs in order to increase farm output and address the needs of population growth.
Simon Kightley, NIAB TAG, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, CB3 0JB, UK.
27 pages, 12 figures, 5 tables, 12 references.