4 September 1999

Threat to seed supplies

By Tom Allen-Stevens

SEED contracts around the country are being reviewed, with no guarantees that anyone will receive the tonnage they requested at the price they were quoted. The disturbing news follows last months downpours over the whole country, with most of this years seed crop suffering crippling losses of quality.

The disaster has prompted seed merchants to review their contracts with growers. "Were used to dealing with this problem in one or two regions of the country, but this year the seed crop in the whole of the UK has suffered. Theres going to be restricted availability of seed this autumn, especially for the new varieties," warns Cargills Peter Croot.

Cargill aims to supply seed with 95% minimum germination, the legal minimum being 85%. These problems with seed supply mean that the company may not be able to guarantee such high germination rates. Their prices are also likely to rise by 10-15%. Mr Croot advises growers to check availability with their local merchant and take germination rate into account if low seed rates are planned.

Dalgetys David Neale has similar news for growers: "About three-quarters of the seed crop was still out in the field when the downpours started and this has had a devastating effect on quality." Dalgety usually aims to supply seed with a germination percentage in the mid-90s, but cannot guarantee it this year.

Mr Neale does point out, however, that they have some carry-over stocks from last year and some seed came in before the weather turned bad. "The earlier we know growers requirements, the sooner we can deal with them," he says. Again, prices are likely to go up by about 10%.

Both merchants believe that farm-saved seed would now be a less attractive option this year, with samples likely to deteriorate further in the barn. "Many growers who usually sow farm-saved seed are looking for certified seed this year," maintains Mr Neale.

Angry

But seed-cleaning contractors have reacted angrily. "I think the behaviour of some of these merchants has been abominable. They seduce farmers with promises of low prices and then use any old excuse to rewrite the contract," states Bill Eaton of Didcot-based CYO Seeds.

He also denies that growers are turning away from farm-saved seed: "Nothing could be further from the truth. My orders have increased considerably, mainly because all of my mobile units have a gravity separator." The separator can be used to remove most of the poor quality grain, leaving a sample with a much higher germination rate. Without using one, growers will have to spend more on chemical and royalties for the same amount of viable seed, insists Mr Eaton. This, he believes, is the major advantage of using farm-saved rather than certified seed this year.

This autumns pea and rape cultivations were not as John Fenton planned. For once, the blame is not the weather.

WHEN a contractor decides to pull out with no warning at this time of year I conclude one of two things: either he is in dire financial straits or he is intent on inflicting maximum damage on the businesses, neither of which are beneficial to the contractors reputation. Such an incident concentrated my mind as I sought to find a way round the situation.

Weighing up the options open to me, I could either invest in the necessary tackle to undertake the work in house or I could try and find another contractor. With the combined acreage of the two farms, large tackle was the only way we could contemplate undertaking the work ourselves. Sourcing such machinery was not easy but thanks to the enormous efforts of several local dealers, we could have been operational in five days but not before parting with £176,000 – sizeable investment by anyones standards.

Compromise

Realistic costings on the operations to be carried out with this equipment produced some interesting results but the biggest unknown factor was achievable workrates which influence the cost per hectare enormously.

   Finding the quality of person necessary to operate such machinery at such short notice would not have been easy. Relying on current staff, we would have had to compromise on timeliness and that means yield. That said, I would have been quite happy to make the investment as the costs were marginally lower than the contracting rates we had been paying. However, decisions made in haste are not always the right decisions and having committed myself to this course of action, I found myself rescinding it the following morning.

Bad news travels fast. I was amazed just how many people rang up with offers – they just happened to have some spare capacity within their businesses. The cynic in me questioned just why there is so much over capacity within the industry in the current economic climate and did these individuals really know what their cultivation costs were?

Thumbs-down for Genesis

TROUBLED farm assurance scheme Genesis has received another setback: the millers have stated that they are still not prepared to give the scheme their backing. Following talks with NABIM, Genesis directors had agreed to make some changes to the scheme manual in order to clarify the position on one or two key issues.

Despite one or two minor changes made to the manual, NABIMs Alex Waugh confirms members are unenthusiastic: "There is concern that some of the claims made in the manual are unrealistic. For example, Genesis has vowed to carry out tests further down the food chain, and I understand that the British Retail Consortium have not agreed to be on the board, as was claimed. This undermines confidence in the manual and in the scheme in general."

Meanwhile, Assured Combinable Crops has completely rewritten their scheme manual; it now ties in much more closely with the report left by verifiers on farm. "We hope the changes will make it easier for members to identify the rules and reasoning behind particular points in their reports," states Robin Pirie, who has taken over as scheme manager. Also included are guidelines on what to do if a load is rejected.