24 July 1998

Saving hybrid rape seed may bring trouble – NIAB

By Andrew Blake

SOWING farm-saved seed from hybrid oilseed rape crops could lead to big problems, says NIAB and plant breeders.

But mobile seed cleaners believe the practice may be cost effective all the same.

With nearly a fifth of the winter crop in hybrids and several new spring types grown commercially for the first time this season, pressure is increasing for cash-strapped growers to cut costs by farm-saving.

"I have had several enquiries about it," says NIABs oilseeds specialist Simon Kightley. "Last year I had only a couple."

Legally there is nothing to stop growers saving hybrid seed, though the British Society of Plant Breeders maintains they must first obtain permission from the breeder.

But sowing saved hybrid seed would jeopardise performance, says Mr Kightley. Resulting crops are likely to contain plants of different heights and flowering dates with an unpredictable number sterile, he explains. "Judging their best management could be very difficult."

Crops would no longer be hybrids, losing their hybrid vigour and showing variable disease resistance and oil quality, adds BSPB.

Paul Hickman for breeder Advanta, admits hybrid seed is more expensive, but suggests aid payments could be put at risk if the seed is deemed not to be of the original variety.

But a MAFF spokesman says one generation of saved hybrid is acceptable if it meets glucosinolate standards.

But oilseed rape growers must have the chance to save and use seed from hybrid varieties, says Dick Bowler of mobile seed cleaning firm Re-So Seeds. He challenges the view that saving hybrid seed is bad farming practice. Similar arguments to prevent growers saving conventional varieties were put forward when oilseed rape was first grown in the UK, he notes.

"The legality of doing it is a very grey area," he notes. "But we are definitely keen to see some proof ratifying the claims that growing hybrids for a further generation is detrimental."

Glos-based Charles Goldingham, former chairman of the mobile seed cleaners section of the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, echoes those views. "From a practical point of view we are naturally extremely cautious about recommending farmers do something others say is unwise. But we would love somebody to try it." &#42