Back to the future?

KWS’s launch of its Dynamic Wheats programme was one of the most fascinating meetings I’ve been to in a long time, but I was glad to find I wasn’t the only one there with a bit of a sense of having been here before.

The current craze for barn filling wheats may turn out to be a blip, admittedly one that’s lasted several years, as did the focus on quality that was the driving force for many in the early 2000s, with growers harangued constantly by the likes of me to go for more marketable Group 1 or 2 varieties. However, I’m also very well aware of the dangers of wearily announcing that you’ve seen every innovation before. If we don’t watch it, oldsters like me can end up losing touch completely as we fail to give credit for new ideas where it’s deserved.

It’s not the same as it was before. The world’s changed. Farming’s changed. Plant breeding has changed. The new varieties can do more. The farming industry of 2015 is a lot more focussed on the market and the farmers of 2015 understand that producing and marketing a wheat crop is more complicated than just going for a premium on one, very limited definition of premium-worthy quality.

I like the Dynamic Wheats concept. I like the idea of producing a crop that’s marketable flexibly. It seems to me to be the answer to one of the eternal problems of arable agriculture: the need to decide what you’re going to produce before you have very much idea at all what the market you’re selling into is going to look like. You need a crop that’s going to give you more choices when it comes to selling it. The future, as far as varieties are concerned, looks set to give us a lot more options.

If you want a reminder of how progress is always one step back for a couple of steps forward, there’s a reminder, albeit with not a lot to do with agriculture, in our Financial Review in this week’s Farm Business. EU governments have decided to ignore MEPs and the Commission and keep mobile phone roaming charges in place at least until 2018. The decision to stop the phone companies stinging us as soon as we tried phoning home from the Continent (or the Irish Republic) was a great idea. That national governments have been persuaded to overturn it is depressing. Just in case you thought politicians were on your side.

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