17 August 2001

Stop-go harvest is real threat to seed supplies

By Andrew Blake

CATCHY weather this week is pushing an already late wheat harvest later still, putting early drilling at risk, particularly where growers are relying on mobile cleaning of farm-saved seed.

Estimates suggest total seed demand will be 25-30% up on last autumn, with farm-saved seed up by 10-15%, putting the nations 100-plus mobile seed cleaners under immense pressure.

Much now depends on next weeks weather, say industry observers. With only about 2% of the national crop cut by Monday, harvest is a fortnight behind 1998/99, when much of the crop was also sown late, says ADASs John Garstang.

"In terms of rate of progress, its the latest for quite some time. Thats going to increase pressure on the seed trade and I cant see a lot of very early September sowing being done. But thats maybe no bad thing, because it can bring a lot of problems and jacks up inputs."

Modern seed plants and mobile units can turn seed round quite quickly, he says. "Its all pretty slick now." But as harvest becomes more delayed the harder it will be to meet orders on time.

Banks Cargills Peter Croot reckons it may be a little early to panic yet. Low seed rates for early drilling should make over-yeared supplies go further. "But another two weeks delay wouldnt be good news."

Nearly 0.5m tonnes of winter wheat and barley seed needs processing between harvest and autumn sowing, says Dalgetys Barry Barker. About 200,000t of that is done by mobiles.

"Harvest is probably no more than two weeks behind normal, but the whole ordering pattern is late this year. That will put a lot of pressure on us."

Ample processing capacity will help the certified seed trade cope, he says. The real worry is how the countrys 100-plus mobile cleaners, of which the company runs seven, will cope with the expected rush.

Orders are "miles behind" last year, admits Northants ReSo Seeds mobile agent John Aprahamian. "It will happen, but all in a rush. We have the capacity to deal with it, but if we are pushed much later it will pile up and people could be disappointed.

Bill Eaton, of Oxon-based CYO Seeds and chairman of the seed cleaning section of the NAAC, is not worried yet. "We are already cleaning harvested Claire from light land near Windsor. But the increased tonnage coming our way, 10-15% up on last year, will put mobiles under pressure."

Farmers are still very reticent about ordering, says Masstocks David Neale. "They have to be acutely aware of the challenge that poses for mobiles and static plants alike. The window is tightening all the time." &#42

WHEATSEEDFEARS

&#8226 Catchy weather & harvest delay.

&#8226 Extra demand, but late ordering.

&#8226 Processing window narrowing.

&#8226 Potential sprouting esp in Claire.

Farm-saved tests vital

Despite the potential delay dont neglect testing farm-saved seed for disease, NIAB advises. Microdochium (formerly Fusarium) nivale, the cause of seedling blight, is not expected to be widespread. But local wet weather at flowering has increased infections in some areas, warns pathologist Jane Thomas. Growers planning to use untreated seed must test for bunt, she adds. The test takes two days. The Microdochium test can take five days, but sometimes needs seven. The cost of testing both diseases plus septoria, germination and thousand seed weight is £114/sample.