Selenium-enriched fertiliser specifically for bread-making wheat, could soon be available from Yara to boost consumers’ intake of that essential element.

UK selenium consumption had long been slipping, mainly because imports of US bread-making wheat had declined. American soils contained plenty of selenium, explained the firm’s Mark Tucker.

“Our soils have the second lowest levels of selenium in the EU, and 95% are deficient.”

Average UK intake, about 35 micro-grams a day, had fallen below the WHO‘s recommended 40. Only about six came from bread.

Restoring daily intakes

In the US lack of selenium was thought to be linked to fertility problems and prostate and colon cancer, and the UK Food Standards Agency recognised the element’s important role in the immune system’s function, said Dr Tucker.

Three years’ LINK trials with researchers, manufacturers and a major retailer in M&S in the Bagels project had shown that applying “a few grams” of selenium to soils could restore daily intakes to recommended levels without any environmental risk through build-up.

“We already have our Top Stock fertiliser, a 25:5:5 product with selenium,” said Dr Tucker. But its ratio might not suit wheat growers, he acknowledged.

The decision to make a specific wheat fertiliser, which “in an ideal world” would be otherwise straight nitrogen, lay with the retail sector. Minimum production run would be about 4000t.