As breeders continue to capture attention with ‘big’ varietal launches, a range of alternative options are coming to the table which promise to offer growers broader choice and something different. CPM takes a look.

“We’ve found the new material we’re introducing has relevance to conventional growers too.”

By Janine Adamson

From low-input approaches and regenerative farming to a changing climate and high stress conditions, varietal choice is becoming more nuanced by the season. And while key players continue to launch flagship varieties, new genetic material is beginning to feed through from alternative sources too.

Delivering greater diversity in plant genetics is something which Cope Seeds’ managing director Gemma Clarke is striving to address. Set up in 2003 by Trevor Cope, the business originally aimed to serve organic growers, but as farming shifts away from high input regimes, Gemma believes there’s now a wider market for what Cope Seeds has to offer.

“We’ve always been perceived as catering for certified organic growers or those seeking niche crops such as naked oats, spelt or rye. But we’ve found the new material we’re introducing from both UK and European breeders has relevance to conventional growers too, particularly those opting for a low-input or regenerative approach,” she says.

According to Gemma, although there are three strands to the family-owned business – genetics, seed and grain – it’s the genetics element of Cope Seeds which can be overlooked, despite 25% of earnings being invested in research, development and trials to ensure continuous progress.

But through building relationships with plant breeders Europe-wide, Cope Seeds is now seeing the fruits of its labour, with the launch of three new varieties. Gemma hopes that by offering stand-out traits, growers will back these curve ball options.

Closest to realisation is Everlong – a Group 4 spring wheat which is now on the AHDB’s Recommended List. “Everlong offers the highest treated yield (107%) and specific weight (80.4kg/hl) of any spring wheat on the RL yet also provides growers with a complete package,” says Gemma.

“Among its benefits include a wide drilling window which makes it a strong contender whether that’s as a true spring wheat or as a late-drilled autumn planting. We know it performs well in low-input scenarios and can be used within organic regimes.”

According to the AHDB’s variety comments, during three years of testing, Everlong has shown no major weaknesses in disease resistance and has high resistance to yellow rust, brown rust and mildew (based on limited data), as well as being relatively early to mature.

And while the variety has been positioned as a Group 4 feed wheat, in Austria where the genetics were developed, Everlong is being grown for milling, comments Gemma.

Perhaps most attractive to conventional growers with its broad appeal will be German-bred Aretha – a winter barley which Gemma says is truly unique. “It offers high yields across the UK but is the earliest to mature of any winter barley currently available on the market.

“It’s stiff yet offers tall straw which we know appeals to livestock/mixed farmers. It also has both Type 1 and Type 2 barley yellow mosaic virus (BaYMV) resistance for robust control, so has the potential to really stand out,” she explains.

Because Aretha has been bred in Germany, Gemma says the variety is bringing further diversity to the current genetic pool available, to help mitigate the risk of resistance and ‘breakdown of genetics’. Aretha (STRG 283/18) is currently a candidate variety.

With interest in pulses increasing, the final variety in the immediate pipeline from Cope Seeds is white pea, Marler. “Marler promises exceptional performance as the highest yielding white pea of any listed or candidate variety. With consistent performance across various sites and good resistance to downy mildew, it’s set to make its mark in the spring of 2026,” explains Gemma.

As well as bringing valid new material to growers, she says these varieties also signify a change in direction for Cope Seeds. “We really believe in the genetics we’re bringing over to the UK – we exist as a company to offer choice to all growers, not just organic.

“However, we’ll continue to service that specific segment of the market including varietal blends, but our pipeline applies to all regimes. And because we’re committed to continual investment, we have a strong longer-term pipeline too, including winter wheats,” adds Gemma.

“The challenge is improving awareness of the business and maintaining momentum so that we can start to stand out as having material worth backing.”

Having achieved success with RL-listed spring oat Merlin, which Gemma says should be number one across all of the UK next year, it could be argued that Cope Seeds has already proven that success is possible. “We just require that same success with a conventional cereal variety,” she points out.

Providing a different perspective on seed choice is Agrovista with Group 4 winter wheat Mindful, part of the company’s exclusive range of wheat and barley varieties.

Mindful offers a sound combination of disease resistance ratings, high specific weight and consistent yield performance across differing regions, back cropping and drilling dates, says arable seed product manager, Ted Williams.

“But it’s not just a good variety, 10% of seed sale profits go to farming mental health partner charities – FCN and RSABI – which is particularly relevant in a season like we’re experiencing,” he continues. “Agrovista is striving to do the right thing by growers in every way to give back to them where we can.”

In terms of disease scores, Mindful offers an 8 for mildew with a respectable 6 for yellow rust and 6.3 for septoria.

As for performance, Mindful achieved the top mean yield across Agrovista’s AgX trial sites in 2021 and 2022 at both extremes of the sowing window. Drilled in September 2022 it produced 14.89t/ha; late sown in November the same year it gave 15.44t/ha.

“That said, the days of ‘barn fillers’ are over,” comments Ted. “Crop inputs are becoming increasingly expensive so having a portfolio of varieties to meet the requirements of an individual farm and its associated agronomics is important.

“For the farmer, this means choosing varieties with complete packages that can provide more flexibility in drilling dates such as Mindful,” he says.

This article was taken from the latest issue of CPM. Read the article in full here.

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