1 September 1995

LESS SEED SAVES A TIDY SUM

LOWER seed costs and a better product are two good reasons for cutting seed rates at Cantley Estate, near Norfolk.

Sentry Farming manager John Baker runs 1778ha (4395 acres) for Royal Life Insurance. Of this, 538ha (1329 acres) is wheat for seed. With C1 seed costing up to £400/t, sowing less seed can save serious money.

Drilling starts in the second week of September. Rates are adjusted to seed-bed conditions and the varietys tillering ability, but average 100kg/ha (89lb/acre). Riband and Consort are favoured early choices.

Rates are stepped up with time, but even on strong land after sugar beet they rarely exceed 150kg/ha (133lb/acre), says Mr Baker. Single dressed seed is used throughout the season.

The farms average seed rate is about 130kg/ha (115lb/acre), a third less than conventional rates, saving £13,000 a year, he says.

Low seed rates also encourage a plant structure which copes better with light, sandy loam soils and low rainfall, a combination not known for barn-filling yields. "We get 23in of rain here a year. Wheats often start dying off in May. Its pointless producing loads of tillers if they dont produce saleable grain."

Instead, he aims for fewer, stronger tillers. "I want to see 450-500 ears a sq m to use limited water effectively and increase the chance of a decent 1000-grain weight."

Yields have averaged 8t/ha (3.24t/acre) over five years. This year, they were averaging 10.1t/ha (4.1t/acre), thanks to timely rains in early June. "Its the best harvest weve ever had. It shows that lower seed rates do not mean less yield."

The technique may not suit everyone, he points out. "Slugs are not a problem here. Where they are, you could argue a higher seed rate gives some insurance. But early-drilled crops will quickly grow away from danger," he adds.