Early maturity for stable yields of quality wheat

date published 25.08.2018

Climate change has significantly affected cereal farming over the last 50 to 60 years. In the course of this period, the harvesting season for wheat and other cereals has moved forward about 10 to 14 days in Austria, subject to variations of course.

This must be considered a negative development, since cultivators miss out on a potentially very valuable vegetation period (The end of June / early July  is characterised by a particularly great difference in day and night duration allowing for a potentially great assimilation capacity). In order to counter this effect, cereal farmers could switch to later maturing varieties such as those cultivated in Northern Germany, Denmark or England. Yet the physiologically optimal temperature for cereals in general, and thus also wheat, lies between 20 and 25 °C, with significantly higher temperatures resulting in heat-induced accelerated maturation (in extreme cases even premature ripening).

In other words, later maturing wheat varieties could only fully satisfy the expectations in their potentially positive yield capacity in years without heat periods in the maturing phase.

Since such years are more often the exception rather than the rule, we have been following a different strategy in wheat breeding at Saatzucht Donau ever since its foundation 18 years ago. Under the direction of Dr. Fanziska LÖSCHENBERGER we have been selecting plants according to the genetic trait of early ear emergence. A few days after the emergence of the ear, wheat starts to flower and can be pollinated. This marks the beginning of the post-floral phase or grain development phase, which only takes about 5 weeks in the Pannonian climate and ends with yellow ripeness. In that phase, about 200kg of grain yield are produced by hectare every day. Arithmetically speaking, each additional day in the seed development phase means a 3% yield increase.

Since this phase can rarely be extended further into the year due to frequent heat periods, it makes more sense to extend it by breeding varieties which develop their ears earlier, thereby enabling days lost in July to be made up for in May). In order to be able to register the characteristics of heat and drought stress every year and facture them in when it comes to the selection process, the wheat lines of Saatzucht Donau have been consistently tested for 18 years at our sites in South-East Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia) and, for the last 10 years, even in Turkey.

For several years now, Saatzucht Donau has been able to present some very early maturing wheat varieties for registration. Some of these varieties are only registered in South-East-Europe (e.g. Romania, Hungary, Serbia), because the Austrian authorities have not yet established the necessary examination environment for the official licensing of very early maturing varieties. Yet a few early maturing varieties have been filed for registration in Austria and two especially promising varieties were successfully registered in 2016 and 2017.

 

ACTIVUS – from early maturity to stable maximum yields

After registration in the national variety lists in Hungary in 2015 and in Slovakia in 2016, ACTIVUS was registered in 2017 in Austria as the highest yielding quality wheat variety in December 2017. With class 2 for ear emergence and class 2 for yellow ripeness, ACTIVUS has received the earliest classifications in the Austrian list of varieties so far. Across all three examination years, ACTIVUS achieved above-average yields in comparison with the best reference quality wheat varieties (104 %, 105 % and 106 % in the years 2015, 2016 und 2017) and thus demonstrated its great yield stability. ACTIVUS has been cultivated not only in Austria and its Central-European neighbouring countries, but also on several thousand hectares in France, where the combination of early maturity, stable yields and quality is also very much appreciated.

 

AURELIUS – As good as it gets (for now)!

In the winter of 2016/2017, AURELIUS was registered within only a few months in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia and is currently becoming one of the leading quality wheat varieties in Central Europe. AURELIUS is characterised by a very early ear emergence (earliest class 2 in Austria), but also excellent leaf health (high resistance against mildew, brown rust and yellow rust), a long post-floral period and thus (only) medium-early maturity (class 4, thus corresponding to the Austrian main product range of bearded wheat varieties). Regarding grain yield, AURELIUS ranks 2nd in all Austrian quality wheat varieties, just behind ACTIVUS. Over its long grain development phase, AURELIUS produces medium-sized, beautifully shaped grains with a very high specific weight and outstanding flour yield (higher than for any reference variety) which makes it an especially valuable raw material for all cereal mills. With each ton of Aurelius wheat, you can produce about 20 kg more flour than with any other of the most important reference varieties.

AURELIUS delivers better qualities than any other quality wheat variety for two processing lines/marketing lines:

  1. Exports to Italy: Alveogramm values: ‘molto bene’

Since Austria joined the European Union more than 20 years ago, an important share of Austrian quality wheat has been exported to Italy. In terms of quantity, this is the largest portion of the Austrian wheat harvest that is subject to a relatively homogeneous quality requirement, i.e. good results in the alveographic analysis.

Italian mills use alveographic analysis (an analysis used also in France, the largest European wheat market) in order to establish the protein quality of the wheat.

AURELIUS achieved the excellent grades 2 and 3 for each of the single parameters of the alveographic analysis (P/L ratio, W index, G index). Since Italy has also been increasingly importing quality wheat from Germany and Hungary, a variety like AURELIUS can help keep the edge over our competitors by providing better quality.

  1. Frozen baked goods – strength is key

Today, a significant portion of the bread and baked goods consumed in Austria are deep-frozen in the course of the production process. Most of the time, the (sometimes pre-baked) frozen rolls are only (fully) baked at the place they are finally sold to the consumers.

This production technique constitutes a heavy strain on the dough rheology and enzymology, because the deep-freezing considerably weakens the yeast contained.

Discussions with bakers often result in a requirement for wheat to provide higher dough strength values in the extensographic analysis in order to achieve suitable baking results for deep-frozen products under the production conditions described and without having to add too many baking chemicals.

With regard to dough strength, AURELIUS was categorised with grade 1, clearly outperforming all reference varieties in the quality analysis in the Austrian examination for this parameter.  AURELIUS demonstrates both a high extensibility (important for soft and smooth doughs) and a high resistance to extension (important if dough is prepared with a great mechanical strain through intensive kneading).

 

Cultivating ACTIVUS and AURELIUS

ACTIVUS and AURELIUS are two not very demanding varieties. The optimum sowing time is between October 5 ad 20 with a recommended seeding rate of 330-350 grains/m² which can be reduced to 280 – 300 grains/m² for early seeding (end of September/early October) or increased to 380-420 grains/m² for late seeding (end of October or later).

Both varieties exhibit a very good (AURELIUS, class 3) and good (ACTIVUS, class 4) resistance to lodging. It is thus not usually necessary to apply a growth regulator.

For AURELIUS, production will often be possible without fungicides in the dry Pannonian climate thanks to its excellent resistance against mildew, brown and yellow rust. For wet soils, very intensive cultivation or very humid springs, fungicide application may be useful (closely observe your fields).

As for ACTIVUS, fungicide application may not be necessary under extensive conditions (light soils, dry areas, low fertiliser intensity). If cultivated intensively, it is recommended to regularly check for rust (brown and yellow rust), to which ACTIVUS exhibits only medium tolerance which may not be sufficient to resist if the infection load is strong.

Both varieties are characterised by early ear emergence and early maturity, especially under very dry climatic and soil conditions. On fields with reduced yield expectancies, it may thus make sense to apply nitrogen fertiliser only twice (50-70 kg at the beginning of the growing season and 60 – 80 kg in the late tillering phase, BBCH 33-39) because especially in dry areas, the typical late fertilisation at the time of ear emergence may not be absorbed sufficiently due to a lack of precipitations.

Organic farming

Thanks to its excellent quality and good leaf health, AURELIUS is a very promising variety also for organic farming. Due to its slightly reduced protein content, ACTIVUS is not ideal for the organic production of highest quality wheat for human consumption.

Summary

ACTIVUS and AURELIUS are two early maturing quality wheat varieties offering stable yields and very high processing quality. In the medium term, we strive to develop wheat varieties for Austrian (and European) farmers which provide similar quality characteristics while exhibiting even earlier ear emergence and maturity.

 

Johann Birschitzky, CEO Saatzucht Donau, Probstdorf