24 July 1998

SPEEDY DELIVERYSERVICE

East Anglian farmers were

offered a guaranteed seed

delivery service last year.

Amanda Dunn finds out

whether it has lived up to

expectations and seeks a

reaction from other

seed suppliers

EARLIER drilling demands a fast turnaround of seed, but late harvesting and the need to tailor variety choice and seed treatment to grower need can delay deliveries; guaranteed delivery date seemed a good prospect.

"Our seed on time guarantee went very well last year," says John Poulton, managing director of East Anglian-based supplier Direct Farm Marketing.

"We handled more tonnes than expected and met all delivery dates bar one. The farmer who received his seed three days late was compensated with 50% of the cost of the seed.

Prospects for the service look good again this year. "We are already looking at a 100% increase in seed orders. Many farmers who tested out the service with a small tonnage last year are placing all their business with us this year. We are also receiving a lot of orders via personal recommendation."

But Mr Poulton is concerned that seed on time may not be seen by all as a genuine guarantee. "There is a danger that some of our competitors view the service as a gimmick, and believe there may be small-print in the contract to exclude liability. That simply is not the case.

"We genuinely believe that drilling the right variety, at the right time and into the right conditions is paramount to farm profitability. Taking this approach, seed delivery becomes a means to an end, and the guarantee we offer is a vehicle to help farmers improve profitability."

Mr Poulton also disputes some theories that quality of seed and delivery date may be linked.

"There is the assumption that if you are rushing seed out, quality may be affected. That is not the case. Quality control starts in the field. You simply cant take a bad seed sample, put it through a seed plant and get a good sample at the end of it.

"We work on the principle of drawing off earlier crops less affected by the weather, using a wide geographical spread to reduce vulnerability, and employing better management to meet our targets."

While some merchants are sceptical of Mr Poultons service, others applaud the initiative. "If I was a farmer I would use it," says Frank Curtis, marketing director at Nickerson Seeds.

"We produce more than 15,000t of combinable seed crops each year. But there are so many variables beyond our control it is impossible to underwrite delivery," he explains.

"Last year our plant was ready to handle 1500t of wheat in the first week of September. When we phoned our growers there just wasnt enough dry tonnage available.

"We want to and we will undertake to give our growers the best service possible, but because of climate vagaries we cant underwrite it."

David Neale, national cereal seeds product manager, at Dalgety Agriculture commends DFMs service. But he is confident Dalgety can meet farmer demands without a formal guarantee.

"We are used to farmers wanting delivery and can confidently supply a quality service and product to one in four fields in the UK. To achieve that we now use technology to help meet our target deliveries," he says.

"Strategically, we will over-year grain, process it in June and then supply seed on time with a guaranteed germination."

All three suppliers urge farmers to reconsider their use of farm-saved seed. The main reason farmers chose to farm-save seed was the poor service they received from the industry, rather than any small cost saving, says Mr Poulton.

But timeliness of seed supply should no longer be a concern and cost savings are often marginal.

Mr Neale puts the actual gross margin benefit of using farm-saved seed as low as £1/t of crop grown. "Seed is the baseline on which farm profitability is built. Some farmers are doing a good job of saving seed, but there is also a lot of poor quality management going on for what is effectively a short-term fix on finances. Farmers need to carry out a thorough risk analysis," he concludes.

Rooting for it…

A NEW cereal seed treatment said to enhance rooting by encouraging soil bacterial activity has been launched.

Bio-stimulant Maxicrop Viva is claimed to boost the release of soil nutrients and prevent pathogen attacks, giving increases in root growth of 10-38% in trials. Backed by three foliar sprays of Maxicrop Triple, one within six weeks of drilling, the new product has raised yields on average by 0.86t/ha (7cwt/acre), says the firms technical manager David Pattison.

In five independent trials the same programme lifted Riband wheats thousand grain weight from 44.3 to 46.1 and its specific weight from 66 to 67.1kg/hl, he adds.

Cost of the seed treatment is about £20/t.

Data on the net…

VARIETY news and data is now available on the internet at www.niab.co.uk.

Subscription areas open to both members and non-members include latest UK and European seed statistics and, when harvest commences, a rapid results service for cereal and oilseed crop trials.

The site also offers NIAB Association members news, a calendar of events, current developments, features, Recommended List tables and web links to associated sites, including weather forecasting.