25 August 1995

Farm-saved seed is still a cost-effective option

FARM-SAVED seed remains good value even when growers stump up breeders demands, claims a leading midlands mobile seed cleaner.

Although royalties on farm-saved seed are now a legal reality, it is far too soon to assess their full impact on farm saving, says Nick Downey of CYO Seeds (Midlands) and a former chairman of the mobile cleaning section of the National Association of Agricult-ural Contractors.

"Even when you add the royalty – which this year works out at something like £2/acre – there are still quite big savings to be made," he says. (See box)

He and partner Julian Pollock run eight mobiles within a 60-mile radius of North Kilworth, Lutterworth, Leics. Annual throughput is about 10,000t, 75% of it wheat.

No shortage of work

"Its difficult to say what effect farm-saved royalties are having," he says. "Until the season is finished we wont know. But so far theres no shortage of people asking us back. It looks as though were in for another good year."

The savings case is easily made, he contends. "Say a farmer values his grain at £110/t. For cleaning and dressing hell pay us about £70/t. Add £5/t for the hassle factor, and even with a farm-saved royalty of £25/t hes getting seed for £210/t. I guess very few farmers will buy it elsewhere for less than £250/t. And for good quality seed of modern varieties its much more like £270."

On top there is the "flexibility" argument. In theory this years early harvest removes some of normal advantage of having ones own seed already on farm in good time for drilling. Merchants should have plenty of opportunity to turn seed round quickly to avoid sowing delays.

"But the trade seems hamstrung by its structure," says Mr Downey. "Even when we had that early harvest five or six years ago, it still seemed to take ages getting seed out." The fact that Dalgety and several other agrochemical suppliers operate mobiles reinforces that view, he suggests.

Interest in sowing wheat early is growing, he claims. "A lot of people round here are drilling in the first week in September. And half a dozen of our farmers are sowing in August. They need their seed early."

Aggressive cleaning

Another benefit, sometimes forgotten he adds, is that mobiles can afford to clean very aggressively. Some merchants, who need to get the maximum volume from contracted bulks, have no such option. And with a professional approach to growing and harvesting, the eventual product compares well with certified seed. "A lot of farmers believe the quality of farm-saved seed is better."

On the whole the "excellent" quality of this seasons crop samples makes it an ideal year for farm-saving. But high glucosinolate levels in oilseed rape and small field bean size are causing problems, he adds.

Oilseed rape is proving especially difficult because of the "arbitrary" glucosinolate limit for farm-saved seed. Increasing interest in sulphur applications and the dominance of the comparatively high glucosinolate variety Apex may partly account for this, he believes.

"Weve had a lot of marvellous rape samples, but about 60% are failing because they are above 18 micromoles/g."

This is particularly galling for growers who produce commercial seed, but find themselves unable to save some of it for their own use, says Mr Downey. "It makes them very cross and contemptuous of the system.

"His prognosis for farm-saving that this season will be as successful as any in the past five years." Mr Pollock adds: "The royalties are bound to tip a few farmers out. But that wont happen this season because so many varieties are exempt."

&#8226 Next week we report the views of a leading merchant supplying certified seed. &#42

Excellent wheat quality from this harvest makes it an ideal year to save ones own seed, say CYO partners Nick Downey (left) and Julian Pollock.