21 February 1997

Record crop for winter grain?

SEED statistics from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany confirm the significant rise in winter cereal plantings, pointing towards another possible record crop this harvest.

In terms of the weight of seed certified last autumn, wheat was up 3% on the previous season at 256,000t, with barley up 9% at 105,500t.

According to NIAB head of certification, Andrew Mitchell, the total cereal seed tonnage was up 5%. "This coincides nicely with the 5% drop in set-aside."

But traders believe that underestimates the volume of wheat in the ground. Figures released by EU merchants body COCERAL suggests the UK wheat area has actually increased 7.6%.

"There are two possible explanations," says Dalgety seed business manager, Barry Barker. "Either farmers drilled at lower rates or the area of farm-saved seed has increased again."

This latter option is thought unlikely. "The late harvest, the early start to drilling, the increase in the number of new varieties and the introduction of royalties all mean that, if anything, the area of farm-saved seed will have dropped a couple of per cent," says Jim Black of Banks Agriculture.

In terms of varietal preference, the big increases have been seen for winter wheat Reaper and for malting barleys Fanfare, Gleam and Regina. The popularity of Gleam and Regina, which only have provisional Institute of Brewing approval, suggests farmers are prepared to take the risk, knowing the yield will probably be there.

&#8226 Peas are setting the pace in the spring seed market. Dalgety has already sold 15% more than last year, dominated by Eiffel, Focus and Lantra. Barley sales are also well advanced, with Alexis, Optic and Chariot proving popular.