12 May 2000

Short seed handicap set to end

By Brian Lovelidge

SEED shortage is holding back soya expansion, but this year should be the last time that applies, according to a Hants-based supplier.

This season an estimated 2000-3000ha (5000-7400 acres) of Northern soya is being drilled, mostly for seed. That should produce seed for at least 18,000ha (45,000 acres) next year.

"We were sold out of Northern soya seed by Christmas and could easily have moved four times more," says Edward Willmott of merchant Robin Appel which claims about 80% of the home market.

He expects the 2001 crop, grown mostly in East Anglia and southern England, to make useful inroads into the 1m tonnes of soya the UK imports each year.

The main variety, Belarus-bred Northern Conquest, is harvested in the first half of September. But a second wave of varieties from the same breeding programme is earlier.

"Last year we had a look at two, both still numbered, and this season we have about 2ha of each," says Mr Willmott. "They are about 10 days earlier bringing their harvest forward to late August."

Height and yield potential is about the same as the later types – at about 3t/ha (24cwt/acre) similar to spring oilseed rape but with significantly lower spray costs.

Last years yields averaged only 2.2t/ha (18cwt/acre) but more experienced growers achieved 3t/ha, he says.

Weeds, the main threat, were generally well controlled with an Afalon (linuron)/Basagran SG (bentazone) sequence. Robin Appel obtained off-label approval for these as well as for Laser (cycloxydim) and Reglone (diquat).

"Afalon controls a good range of weeds, but it must be applied tight behind the drill as moist soil is turned up," says Mr Willmott.

The crop stays open for up to eight weeks after emergence, so is prone to competition for some time after Afalon has run out of steam.

That makes a follow-up spray of Basagran SG plus oil important which should ideally be applied when weeds are at cotyledon stage. It is safe and cost-effective, mopping up everything, apart from some grass weeds, which escapes pre-emergence treatment, particularly late germinators like fat-hen, he says.

Wild oats, blackgrass and ryegrass are controlled with Laser, though blackgrass has usually finished emerging by the time soya is drilled in late April.

"The crop seems free from pest and disease problems. Last year PGRO specialists looked at every field of soya. The only thing they found was a little late sclerotinia."

He doubts whether this or other diseases like botrytis which infect during flowering, will ever pose a significant threat. This is because soya flowers mainly in July, when conditions are rarely conducive.

SOARINGSOYA

&#8226 Strong seed demand.

&#8226 Import-saving potential.

&#8226 Earlier varieties in pipeline.

&#8226 Off-label weed control.