Date: 11 September 2023

The Group 4 hard feed variety DSV Champion grown for seed on R. J. Smith’s 400ha Beal Farm at Berwick-upon-Tweed has yielded 30% more this harvest than the farm’s long-term winter wheat average.

Verified by two independent adjudicators from the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) the 12ha crop averaged 16t/ha, although Rod Smith believes that would have been 10% to 20% higher in a year with average rainfall.

“The variable weather made for a very challenging year,” emphasises Rod, who over the last decade has broken numerous yield records at Beal Farm, which overlooks Holy Island on the Northumberland coast.

Although well outside the country’s arable heartland, the region has a long heritage of growing first-class wheat crops, Rod explains.

“Many farms are limited in terms of yield potential by a range of factors, from soil type to climate and where that it is the case it is uneconomic to push crops beyond their natural limits.

"Beal Farm is very clean. There is some brome, but by growing spring barley, ploughing before vining peas and using a cover crop of oil radish, Daikon radish and phacelia we should stay on top of it.

“The potential is there to produce very high yields and that gives us every incentive to maximise productivity.

"Our long-term average yield is 12t/ha, compared with 8t/ha for the whole of the UK, a figure which has plateaued over the last decade.

"Although the 2022/23 season was very challenging, which limited yield potential, we are on target to average 11t/ha across our wheats, which is still very good.”


High quality seed crop

The crop of DSV Champion was part of 124ha of wheat grown at Beal Farm, along with 83ha of oilseed rape, 50ha of spring barley and 26ha of vining peas for farmers’ cooperative Scottish Borders Produce.

The idea for growing DSV Champion came from Andrew Hartley, the company's UK  arable technical manager, Rod recalls.

“The crop was drilled on a heavy field which had received 3t/ha of composted farmyard manure to give it a head start.

"We exchange straw for farmyard manure which is composed in windrows to raise the temperature and kill any weed seeds. The end-product is very concentrated, full of nutrients with much-improved N, P and K analysis, and spreads more accurately.

"After the straw had been removed from the field it was shallow cultivated to help chit weed seeds and volunteers, the green material sprayed off with glyphosate and compost applied.


Huge potential

Following oilseed rape, DSV Champion was drilled on 15 September at a rate of 400/m2 using a Sulky Culti-disc in combination with a Kuhn power harrow which the farm had used for many years.

“We leave it as late as possible to sow wheat but have to be very mindful of the weather as it can quickly turn against us,” Rod explains.

“You never know what the weather will be like after the crop has been drilled and that makes it very difficult to choose what seed rate to use.

"As things turned out, we had a kind autumn, almost all the seeds germinated and we ended up with too many plants, so 350 seeds/m2 or even a little less would have been better."

Harvest 2023 started on 14 August, about a week later than the previous year, but as soon as the combine had finished the oilseed rape it went straight into wheat.

“In a normal year the DSV Champion would possibly have achieved 18t/ha, but in such a challenging year I was very pleased to average 15 - 16t/ha,” Rod concludes.

On the current 2023/24 Recommended List, DSV Champion is the highest yielding feed wheat (Group 4 – 106.3%) and one of the highest yielding when grown as a first or second cereal.

The variety previously topped the Candidate List in 2021/22 and subsequently the 2022/23 Recommended List with the highest yield overall.