10 August 2001
Late harvest threatens seed supplies

By Andrew Blake

CATCHY weather this week is pushing an already late wheat harvest later still, putting early drilling at risk.

The problem is particularly acute where growers are relying on mobile cleaning of farm-saved seed.

Estimates suggest total seed demand will be 25-30% up on last autumn, with farm-saved seed up by 10-15%.

With only about 2% of the national crop cut by Monday (6 August), harvest is a fortnight behind 1998/99, says ADAS John Garstang.

Much of the crop then was also sown late. “In terms of rate of progress, its the latest for quite some time,” he says.

“Thats going to increase pressure on the seed trade and I cant see a lot of very early September sowing being done.”

This is not such a bad thing, he says, because early drilling can bring a lot of problems and involve higher inputs.

He adds that modern seed plants and mobile units can turn seed round quite quickly. “Its all pretty slick now.”

But the longer harvest is delayed, the harder it will be to meet orders on time. This puts the nations 100-plus mobile seed cleaners under immense pressure.

Nearly 500,000 tonnes of winter cereal seed needs processing between harvest and autumn sowing, says Dalgetys Barry Barker. About 200,000t of that is done by mobiles.

“Harvest is probably no more than two weeks behind normal, but the whole ordering pattern is late this year. That will put a lot of pressure on us.”

Ample processing capacity will help the certified seed trade cope, he says. The real worry is how the companys seven mobile units will cope with the expected rush.

Orders are “miles behind” last year, admits Northants ReSo Seeds mobile agent John Aprahamian.

“It will happen, but all in a rush. We have the capacity to deal with it, but if we are pushed much later it will pile up and people could be disappointed.”

Bill Eaton, of Oxfordshire-based CYO Seeds and chairman of the seed cleaning section of the NAAC, is not worried yet.

“We are already cleaning harvested Claire from light land near Windsor. But the increased tonnage coming our way, 10-15% up on last year, will put mobiles under pressure.”

Farmers are still very reticent about ordering, says Masstocks David Neale. “They have to be acutely aware of the challenge facing mobiles and static plants alike. The window is tightening all the time.”