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Nelson Winter Wheat field||Field of Nelson winter wheat|Syed Shah in field of winter wheat

Increased area predicted for low-risk winter wheat with inherently high protein

Winter wheat varieties with inherently higher protein are seeing growing interest from farmers and agronomists looking to limit fertiliser inputs and reduce their carbon footprints. 

And with spikes in fertiliser, inputs, and energy prices slowly becoming the norm in a fragile marketplace, alternative, more sustainable cropping options are gaining traction.

Nelson winter wheat has high nitrogen use efficiency, with the ability to achieve 13% or more % protein with a reduced nutrition programme and it requires fewer fungicide inputs overall, due to its strong disease profile. 

Dr Syed Shah

Dr Syed Shah, NIAB regional agronomist for the south and technical innovation lead, says Nelson is a ‘low risk’ winter wheat. “Varieties with high inherent protein are going to be more readily planted in the UK and Nelson is an important winter wheat which has a naturally high protein and strong disease profile, meaning it’s lower risk for farmers.

“Generally, wheat crops require higher nitrogen inputs to boost yield and grain protein,” says Syed. “For example, adding 50 kg/ha of nitrogen (N) to a base fertiliser rate of 175 kg of N/ha, will give a yield response of 0.25 t/ha on average.

“With a grain price of £300/tonne and nitrogen at £2/kg (prices as of late July 2022), an extra 50 kg/ha of N will cost £100, and with a yield response of 0.25 t/ha, you’re only getting £75/ha back for that extra N,” he says.

Syed explains that the example he is giving shows the intrinsic volatility farmers are used to with most cereal varieties. “If it’s a dry year, like this one, nitrogen applied to boost protein won’t be taken up by the crop, so any N wouldn’t increase yield or protein. 

“We should be growing crops with inherently higher protein, and Nelson is performing well in this regard, in fact, it can produce 13.3% – 14% protein in untreated plots.  

“Nelson isn’t susceptible to yellow rust, or brown rust, so at T0, T1 stage, it doesn’t need a robust input programme, nor does it need a T2 treatment for Septoria, but since it’s a milling wheat, appropriate protection needs to be applied to reduce the risk of fusarium at flowering, especially in wet season,” adds Syed. 

Mixed beef and sheep farmer has benefitted from Nelson for 6 years 

Gordon Treharne, and his sons David and John, farm beef cattle and sheep in Northamptonshire on 220-hectares of land. 

“We grow 60 hectares of Nelson, which has proven to be a strong second wheat and we supply Heygates Miller with grain, which gets a premium at 14% protein, and which isn’t difficult to achieve. 

“It costs less to grow, and its vigorous with a strong root mass, which means it’s a good natural weed suppressant. 

“It’s suitable for direct drilling and is more tolerant to stress than most varieties, and has proven to be very consistent,” he says. 

Gordon explains that it’s a tall variety, and the straw is used for the livestock. “We graze the Nelson in early spring with ewes and lambs,” 

“We use less nitrogen each year to see what we can get away with and still get a good yield and protein over 13%. Even if we don’t reach 14%, and we don’t get a premium, it costs much less to grow it,” adds Gordon. 

Nelson can earn a premium over normal group one premiums with its high quality and Hagberg falling number, and farmers are continuing to see the agronomic benefits due to its wide drilling window, early harvest, tall and stiff weed-suppressing straw, bold grain and its high untreated yield. 

Lincolnshire-based seed and grain specialist Cope Seeds and Grain has been supplying German ‘Elite’ or E wheats to the UK market for over 10 years and Nelson is available on a buy-back contract with the firm, supplying Heygates flour millers. Find out more about Nelson buy back contracts by calling 44 (0) 1529 421081 or emailing