KWS is set to open up a new door for milling wheat growers with KWS Montana – a high quality German E grade wheat that has performed as well in the UK as on the Continent and offers a tasty premium. CPM reviews it.

This variety could provide us with a potential replacement for some of our imported wheat.

By Melanie Jenkins

UK growers often struggle to produce high-quality wheat easily, but now KWS Montana is opening a door for them. It provides an opportunity to grow a quality German E grade milling wheat that yields as well as Solstice and Cordiale (96% of control), while producing a high protein content without extra nitrogen inputs and costs.

High quality wheats are regularly imported to the UK from France and Germany to provide domestic millers with added strength to their loaves and bread products, meaning KWS Montana could give UK milling wheat growers a market opportunity.

Premiums through ADM start at £5/t over the price of Group 1 milling wheats for 13.5% protein, up to £25/t for anything over 14.5% protein.

A three-way cross between Kadu x Cubus and Privileg, KWS Montana was bred in Germany, but is well suited to the UK and therefore is very winter hardy, while having greater vigour than a lot of UK varieties, says KWS. It can be planted late and is still early to mature, similar to barley and making it useful in the fight against blackgrass.

Working closely with end users in Germany, Andres von Felde, international head of product management at KWS SAAT SE, has aimed to produce a wheat suited to modern large-scale bakers. KWS Montana was officially released in Germany in 2014 and has been delivering high proteins, often in excess of 14%. KWS knew that Montana would perform well under UK growing conditions because it had achieved good results, with stable yields, over a three-year period in all five of the main growing regions in Germany – giving a good cross-section of environments, he explains.

The UK imports a significant amount of quality wheat, so the hope is that KWS Montana can replace some of these imports, according to Stuart Carpenter, at ADM Direct. Wheat imports have varied from 7-20% of demand over the past 10 years, meaning there’s potential for this to be filled by UK-grown wheat, if the quality varieties can be grown.

According to Kirsty Richards at KWS, Montana could offer an opportunity for UK growers in light of Brexit. KWS Montana isn’t targeted to replace current Group 1 varieties, but imported products. “UK farmers have to look at all opportunities and anything with added value is clearly useful,” she says.

KWS has worked with ADM from very early on in the lifecycle of varieties, as KWS wants to know if there’s a market available, says Stuart Carpenter. “KWS brought us Montana three years ago, as it’s the first variety that’s able to yield well and produce a similar quality to the German E wheats that are currently imported.”

ADM is supporting KWS Montana through its ‘field to flour’ initiative, according to Mark Ringrose at ADM. “From a milling perspective, this variety looks to be progressive and if successful could provide us with a potential replacement for some of our imported wheat.”

Commercial crops of KWS Montana grown in the UK last year were of good quality, so the next step is to see how the expanded acreage does in this year’s harvest, and increase it further this autumn, explains Stuart Carpenter. AMD Direct is having to do a lot of work with its customers to address the idea of growing a German high quality wheat. “We’ll be able to do more with growers after this harvest – as long as KWS Montana continues to perform the way it has over the past three years,” he adds.

There’s seed available for the coming autumn that has been grown in the UK, says Stuart Carpenter. “It’ll be a bit more expensive that a standard Group 1, but isn’t ridiculous and considering it’ll be bought for a premium, it’s worth it.”

ADM is looking for farmers who have consistently grown Group 1 milling wheats to grow KWS Montana, explains Stuart Carpenter. “Ideally the growers will be near one of our mills and as we have seven across the country, these are accessible. The premium available for KWS Montana makes the economics of growing it attractive to farmers.”

ADM is aiming to purchase KWS Montana from growers on the same terms as imported high quality wheats, at 14% protein. “We have a premium infrastructure in place,” explains Stuart Carpenter. “Premiums start at £5/t over the price of Group 1 milling wheats, up to £25/t.” The minimum premium begins at 13.5% protein, while the top premium will go to anything over 14.5% protein.

KWS Montana will need to have a minimum bushel weight of 76kg/hl and a Hagberg falling number of at least 250 seconds – the same as any other Group 1.

“We’d recommend drilling KWS Montana a bit later but then it’s very early to mature – on a par with Skyfall and a day or two behind Cordial,” says Stuart Carpenter. “It fits in well for sugar beet growers and those with blackgrass issues. It can be grown as a second wheat without a problem and fits well into a lot of situations.”

John Miles at KWS advises that Montana works in a delayed drilling spot where blackgrass is bad – near the end of Oct. “It has the characteristics of a later drilled variety, with good speed of movement in the autumn and spring, establishing and getting going nice and early. KWS Montana has very good grain quality which can prove essential in testing conditions.”

A number of growers have been working closely with KWS and ADM Direct to achieve the best results from the variety, and to make sure it’s managed correctly, particularly in terms of N applications, says Stuart Carpenter. “It needs a spring N application first of any other variety that farmers are likely to be growing. Other than this, it’s no different to growing a Group 1, other than a requiring a robust PGR programme.” KWS also has a grower’s guide available on its website to provide support.

For farmers, adding more N to a crop to increase the protein has a limited effect, therefore genetics are needed to produce the right characteristics to achieve the higher protein, according to Andreas von Felde. “Older varieties need 50-70kg/ha more N to achieve the same protein as KWS Montana.”

As it’s slightly off the pace of the top yielding varieties in the UK, KWS Montana is able to produce the high protein levels required by millers, explains John Miles. “In our UK trials, it’s been very good at converting N into protein, more so than any other UK milling wheat. This will really help the variety become a sensible commercial proposition. We’ve successfully produced samples at 14% protein without changing the fertiliser strategy used for other milling varieties, such as Solstice and Cordiale.”

The N programmes that are now used on the newer milling wheat varieties – those that require higher levels of N – will push the protein levels higher, but this is a more limited data set, explains John Miles. “We would advise starting with standard farm practice and judging yield potential later in the season. Only farm experimentation will provide the most accurate advice for each situation.”

KWS Montana sits in the middle of the road in terms of disease scores, according to John Miles. “Its scores aren’t standout, but neither are they low.”

Though KWS Montana hasn’t gone through AHDB Recommended List trials, KWS has trialled the variety and scored it in the same manner, explains Kirsty Richards. “Against other RL control varieties it scores 7 for mildew, 7 for yellow rust, 8 for brown rust, 5 for Septoria tritici and 8 for fusarium. Fusarium is rife in Germany, so varieties are often selected for their resistance to it.”

There were concerns that it’s tall, but there have been no lodging issues and no disease problems, says Stuart Carpenter. “One grower planted KWS Montana at the same time as a crop of Skyfall, treated both exactly the same, and they yielded on a par with one another, but the protein of KWS Montana was 1-1.5% above Skyfall,” he explains.

The height is slightly taller than UK growers are used to, adds John Miles. At 99cm, it stands above anything on the RL. “We’ve found that the taller the variety, the better it copes on lighter land – but the stem stiffness is something to be considered,” he advises. “Make sure it’s not planted in too fertile a situation but conversely, it’s fantastic on chalk and Cotswold soils.”

Due to the combination of vigour and height, the variety will need a comprehensive PGR programme because of the high value of the crop. “We’re directing farmers to grow it in situations where the potential for lodging is minimised,” says John Miles.

In terms of earliness, KWS Montana is not as early as Cordiale, Gallant or Grafton, but is earlier than others, such as Skyfall and KWS Zyatt, he adds. “It has early maturity and therefore helps to spread the work load.”

Two of the largest companies, producing 60% of Germany’s bread, had great test results using KWS Montana, explains Andreas von Felde. “Over 200 samples were sent out last year, to mills in Poland, Scandinavia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy, and there has been good feedback – especially from the pasta industry.”

KWS Montana isn’t a Group 1 milling wheat and therefore falls outside the AHDB’s remit for varieties on the RL, says Kirsty Richards. “It’s clearly on its own. A particular variety for a particular job and though we don’t ever see it taking 10-15% of the market, it has a place, as it could be a once in a lifetime variety that’s suited to the UK climate.”

Aiming for a high premium on chalky boulder clay

Tom Duke, farmer at Wisbridge Farm, Royston, Herts, decided to give KWS Montana a go as it offered an appealing premium when margins are particularly tight. “We liked the opportunity to be part of growing a new variety of milling wheat to fill the requirement for the highest protein bread wheat that up to now has had to be imported,” he says. “The support from ADM and KWS has been excellent.”

After growing 32ha last year, Tom Duke currently has 42ha of KWS Montana in the ground on the 700ha farm. He also grows Group 1 and Group 4 wheats, winter feed barley, spring barley, winter oilseed rape and winter beans.

The current plot of KWS Montana went in as a second wheat after OSR on 22 Oct 2016, into a chalky boulder clay. The ground was ploughed and packed before the crop was drilled using a Väderstad Rapid into a good seed bed after rain, at the recommended rate of 350 seeds/m².

“The establishment was good and the growth has been fairly vigorous; it’s being held back by the severe drought, like everything else,” explains Tom Duke. “It looks as good as can be expected in the conditions.”

Tom Duke has found the main difference to normal milling wheats is that he has had to watch its lodging. “Typically, German wheats grow fast and lush, so careful growth regulation is important.”

In terms of inputs, the crop received the standard farm blackgrass programme as the farm has typical issues of its soil type: Consisting of Crystal (flufenacet+ pendimethalin), Hurricane (diflufenican) and Avadex (tri-allate). At T0 it had a Cherokee-based spray (chlorothalonil+ cyproconazole+ propiconazole) along with chlormequat (CCC) and Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl). It then had a Tracker-based T1 spray (boscalid+ epoxiconazole), which again had CCC and Moddus. “If we get rain, we anticipate using Terpal (mepiquat chloride+ 2-chloroethylphosphonic acid) later,” adds Tom Duke. Overall, he expects to put on 300kgN/ha, including 40kgN/ha at the flag leaf stage and 40kgN/ha of foliar liquid treatment.

Tom Duke believes he can push the variety to 14.5% protein for the full premium over Group 1. “It’s too early to say what it’ll yield, as last year’s crop was in a third wheat position and very late drilled, but we’re targeting 10t/ha with the N programme,” he explains. “Judging the crop at this point in time, I would grow it again, but it does of course depend on how it performs this harvest.”

KWS Montana at a glance