29 September 2000

Growers taking risks by sowing untreated grain

By Andrew Blake

CEREAL growers are being driven to false economies this autumn, using grain from the crop store to fill drills in their drive to slash production costs, claim seed trade observers.

All the signs are that the winter wheat area will remain much as last season, says Barry Barker, Dalgety Arables national seed manager. But with certified seed sales expected to be down by as much as 25% and mobile seed cleaners seeing no corresponding increase in business, many more growers are clearly sowing untreated grain straight from the barn, he says.

"They wont necessarily lose out on yield, but they could have trouble with establishment and they are more likely to have problems managing their crops," says Mr Barker.

Oxon-based mobile seed processor Bill Eaton believes the fast growing trend for grain to go directly from store to drill is more serious. "I can confirm that it is going on on quite a large scale. We had expected an increase in demand, but it hasnt happened.

"Growers are being forced to economise beyond the point of good farming practice. Advice to test against fusarium is sensible, but it is not the whole story. Growers could easily run into trouble with bunt."

He blames the government. "The suits in Whitehall really have got to protect the national interest."

Neil Pateman of Beds-based Banks Agriculture confirms that more farmers are drawing from the heap. "It is happening, but it is difficult to anticipate what will happen nationwide. If anything it is probably more prevalent in the north.

"But it is a recipe for disaster with diseases that we thought we had seen the back of, like bunt and loose smut, rearing their heads again."

NIAB reports little upturn in demand for cereal seed testing. "It is still a bit early for cereals, but we have seen no significant change in the amount done," says the OSTSs Juno McKee. "If you sow untested seed you are taking a big risk." &#42

AUTUMNSEEDING

&#8226 Certified sales down 10-25%.

&#8226 More grain directly into drills.

&#8226 No significant rise in testing.

&#8226 Disease disasters forecast.