Farm-saved seed offers cost savings, high quality and
better timeliness – provided the job is done right.
Marie Skinner examines the current state of play
FARM-saved seed quality can be as good, if not better, than certified seed. So says Philip Taylor of mobile seed cleaner TGS Seeds at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
"Farmers can reject a higher percentage of the potential seed crop than seed companies, who have already paid a premium to buy their seed crop," he explains.
Trade is buoyant for the nine mobile dressers run by TGS Seeds. All grain is passed over a screen cleaner, which removes straw and small grains. A gravity separator is then used to reject much of the grain, to select only the large, bold grains and to remove weed seeds.
"The farmer has the choice of how much to reject, but it is usually around 20%. The tails are usually kept for pheasants or blended in with other grain being sold from the farm.
"We provide farmers with a tailor-made product. If they wish, they can have different seed dressings on different batches of the same seed," explains Mr Taylor. In addition, farm-saved seed is available on farm sooner than may be possible with certified seed, so benefiting the increasing number of farmers who are drilling early.
A keen user of farm-saved seed, Gordon Vincent, manager of Milton Estates near Peterborough, saves seed for all his 1720ha (4250 acres) of arable crops, including winter wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, peas and beans.
"I first began using farm-saved seed 14 years ago and have not encountered any problems. I start with C1 seed, grow the seed as though I am producing a commercial seed crop, have the seed fully tested by NIAB and, if it meets the standards, then have it cleaned and dressed to a high standard by a mobile cleaning plant."
Mr Vincent believes his seed is as good as C2 seed supplied by a merchant and considerably reduces his costs. "Taken over all the crops, farm-saved seed reduces my seed costs by 50% compared to buying certified seed, with the largest savings being made on oilseed rape"
John Messer of Lush Hill Farms is another regular user of farm-saved seed. His priority is to maximise yields of feed wheat, moving to newer varieties as necessary. He is currently growing Savannah and Equinox to provide seed for next year.
Once Mr Messer has selected his varieties he buys in C2 HVS seed. If the variety performs well it is grown on for at least two to three years. "I do not find problems growing varieties on for several years. In the past I have grown Slejpner for up to four generations."
The seed crops have the same fungicide treatment as the other wheats, but particular attention is given to controlling wild oats and grass weeds. Seed is selected from the middle of the field.
The National Institute of Agricultural Botany stresses the importance of using quality seed at all levels of crop production. "NIAB neither approves nor disapproves of the use of farm saved seed, but stresses the importance of using the best quality seed for cost-effective crop production," says Andy Mitchell, head of seed certification at NIAB.
Nick Downey of mobile seed cleaning specialist CYO Seeds has seen the quality of farm-saved seed increase over the past 10 years. "Mobile cleaners used to be considered inferior to static cleaners, this is no longer the case."
Farm-saved seed is ideal for farmers entering into crop assurance schemes, provided farmers and mobile cleaner operators record the correct information and carry out the right procedures, he adds. "It is the best way to have complete traceability."
Mr Downey is confident about the future. "The merchants who knocked the product some years ago are now running their own mobile dressers, even though they are selling certified seed. They must believe farm-saved seed is here to stay." *
SEED PRODUCTION GUIDELINES
1 Choose the right seed stock — C1 or C2 (HVS). These seed stocks will have been tested for germination, below threshold levels of seed-borne diseases and varietal purity. However, it is virtually impossible to eliminate all contamination from volunteers, cross-pollination from other crops and off types in the crop. Each generation a crop is grown on, impurities will build up.
2 Weed control is very important, especially against wild oats and cleavers, which should not be present if the seed is being saved. The crop should be inspected in the field as rigorously as if it was producing a certified seed crop, with hand roguing for wild oats and other cereals.
3. Varietal purity in the field — do not grow barley for farm-saved seed in a field adjacent to other barley varieties as cross pollination may occur. Cross pollination is much less of a problem with wheat. For both crops select a field that grew the same variety, or a break crop, the previous year. In the field, check for off types, look for different height or waxiness of the ears in wheat and variations in red pigmentation in barley. Do not save seed if off types are easily found.
4 Look for signs of seed-borne disease in the field, such as loose smut and bunt.
5 Before combining, check that the combine and trailers are clean and take the seed from the centre of the field.
6 Drying must be done carefully to avoid heat damage affecting germination. If possible, combine at low moisture levels.
7 In store ensure no cross-contamination occurs and makes sure wet grain does not have a chance to overheat.
8 Test the seed for germination and seed borne diseases and only use seed that passes all tests. Diagnostic testing can be carried out for farmers by NIAB, the full test package costing £147.
9 Have the sample properly cleaned to remove small grains, chaff and dirt. It is important to produce a good, clean product. Cleaning should be done by a professional mobile cleaner, not by the combine.
(£/t for 10t lot of wheat)
UKASTA Mobile figs figs*
Grain price 75.00 65.00
management 3.50 3.50
field production 34.00 30.00
Bags 6.50 7.00
seed royalty 27.00 25.00
disease tests 5.00 0.50
treatment 43.00 43.00
TOTAL COST 194.00 174.00
SAVING over typical C2 certified seed with single-purpose dressing (£248/t):
£/t 54.00 74.00
£/ha at 155kg/ha
(10stone/acre 8.37 11.47
£/ha at 186kg/ha
*From CYO Seeds and TGS Seeds
 Price of wheat: UKASTA, average over season; mobiles, at harvest.
 Royalty rate £25 for 98/99 fss.
 £5 per seed lot, based on germination test only. Most fss dressed so farmers rarely pay for disease testing.
 Cleaning, dressing and testing charges related to load size. On large loads, costs per tonne can fall by £20/t.
NB: Varieties such as Riband, which carry no farm-saved seed royalty, could be expected to give a greater saving if farm saved seed is used. But this does not happen as the price of the certified seed
is also lower.