19 July 2002

Mobile cleaners on march

Just how good can the

quality of farm-saved seed

really be? Charles Abel

visited a mobile seed-cleaner

to find out why it thinks it

can match or exceed

certified seed standards

ANYTHING static seed cleaning companies can do we can do too, and we can probably do it better if the farmer wants.

That is the sales pitch from mobile seed cleaners this summer, underpinned by the National Association of Agricultural Contractors Verified Seed scheme.

"We are working the same kit as the statics, it is just that it is on the back of a lorry," says Philip Hunt, production director for Anglia Grain Services. "The seed we produce is comparable with C1, C2 or HVS, if not better."

He cites two main reasons. First, unlike static certified seed plants, mobiles can remove as much screening as the farmer wants, to remove weed seeds and impurities and boost thousand grain weight.

"Certified processors have paid to have seed grown so do not want to dress it too hard. We do not have that problem. We can remove as much as the farmer wants, up to 25% or more."

His second reason is that mobile cleaners are increasingly using the same pre-cleaners, gravity separators and seed treatment applicators as the best certified seed processing facilities.

Over the past 11 years Anglia Grain Services has grown from two machines to 14, with most using Heid gravity separators and Vanguard seed treaters, just like in modern certified seed plants. Typical investment in a unit is now £130,000.

The Vanguard treaters are bought from Bayer and commissioned and supported by their staff, with regular calibration to ensure correct dosing.

Dosing a known weight of grain with an accurately measured volume of seed treatment ensures coverage is far more accurate and even than with the old continuous flow treaters, Mr Hunt notes.

That is verified by seed treatment suppliers, which check samples throughout the season to ensure coverage is acceptable.

"For something like BYDV product Secur it is a very tight tolerance, but we have never had a problem meeting it. The Vanguard is the most modern and accurate treater in the industry and were as accurate in our use of it as a static plant," says Mr Hunt.

Accurate MPL diaphragm pumps meter the main seed treatment, such as Sibutol, plus water, which is co-applied to aid coverage. "For a tonne of seed we are applying just 1.5 litres of treatment, so need the water to aid even coverage." Two more pumps can be used to apply two further treatments as needed, such as Latitude for take-all, Evict for wheat bulb fly or manganese.

"We are bound by law to keep to the rates on the drums. The companies check dosing and if there were any under-dosing they would not stand by the farmer if there was a problem with the crop. So we do exactly what it says on the tin."

By contrast, there is no doubt that there are operators outside the NAACs Verified Seeds scheme who apply reduced rate seed treatments, says an NAAC spokesperson.

Untreated seed is rarely asked for. "Farmers seem to talk about it more than actually doing it. We did not see very much last year at all," says Mr Hunt.

Cost of the AGS standard cereal service is £70/t, including Sibutol, Beret Gold or Premis. The company operates from the Humber to the Thames and as far west as the M1. Processing capacity is up to 8t/hour for cereals. &#42

In the bag, and the quality of this mobile-processed farm-saved seed matches certified, thanks to careful cleaning and accurate application of seed treatment products, says Philip Hunt of Anglia Grain Services (left).

&#8226 Kit now matching certified plants.

&#8226 Scope to dress grain harder.

&#8226 Regular checks on chem coverage.

&#8226 As good or better than certified.

Quality ensured

About 80% of mobile-processed seed is handled by one of the 41 member companies of the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, which has operated the Verified Seeds scheme since 1999. CMi Certification does annual on-site inspections of machinery, operator training and quality control.

1 Raw grain (preferably managed as a seed crop and below 16% moisture for cereals) tested for germination and disease at farmers discretion.

2 Steel-fingered de-awner removes barley awns and loosens husk.

3 Law Denis D200 Cleaner uses 2.65mm bottom sieve and 6mm top sieve plus cyclone to remove dust and trash.

4 Adjustable internally-balanced £30,000 Heid gravity separator dresses grain to desired spec.

5 Vanguard treater applies seed treatment accurately and evenly.

Farmer likes the service

CAMBS farmer Noel Darby has been using AGS for many years, buying just enough certified seed each season to produce the following years planting material on his 263ha (650-acre) Manor Farm at Marholm, near Peterborough. AGS offers a professional service, but is still too costly when wheat is worth just £60/t and there are hefty royalties and seed treatment costs to pay on top, he says.