7 July 1995

Time for autumn decisions

Healthy seed makes for a good crop. In this special we examine the need for keeping it that way, and what that will cost. Breeders argue the case for royalties on farm-saved seed, and highlight the value of older varieties. Andrew Blake kicks off with a look at topical wheat and barley advice.

Edited by Robert Harris

THE growing number of guides to end user needs leaves winter cereal growers well placed to decide which varieties to sow this autumn.

Consensus at the recent National Institute of Agricultural Botanys Varieties and Seeds Day is that adding the NABIM (millers organisation) guide and the more recent British Cereal Exports version to those from the Institute of Brewing and some individual millers should be a real help.

The crucial point is that whatever the guide, it has the backing of breeders and the trade, says Alan Almond of BCE. "We have had a very good response here and at Cereals 95."

Marketability remains the key to growers decisions, says NIABs head of combineable crops trials, Richard Fenwick. Although the "large heap" produced with "fairly high inputs" is likely to pay best now, growers should not be complacent, he warns.

Grouping varieties

"The NABIM guide is excellent. Before that the complaint was that growers didnt really know what was wanted." Grouping varieties more precisely according to millers needs instead of "lumping" them together is particularly useful, he believes. NIABs new bread-making scale also helps growers.

"Big strides" in streamlining the IoB approvals system to allow varieties to be listed earlier than before is another benefit for growers, suggests Mr Fenwick.

In some years up to 25% of UK wheat may available for export. "Here the BCE document has helped a lot." There are still gaps in the information. But comparing the Chopin Alveograph results for varieties should provide a good idea of export suitability, he suggests.

Dr Almond agrees but stresses that variety export potential also depends on specific weight, Hagberg, protein content and individual buyers experience. Arguments about hard and soft endosperm types are now largely "red herrings", says Mr Almond. Key to success is to avoid bulking different varieties together in store, he adds. "As the Italian millers say, they like wine and they like water, but they dont like the two mixed together!"

Reaction to the apparent plethora of guides is generally favourable. But Frank Curtis of Nickerson Seeds believes growers will take some time to lock into them. "Things dont change overnight. People are becoming increasingly aware of targeting end markets but I believe it will take 5-10 years for this sort of information to filter through. Farmers are still looking for the big heap that is easy to grow."

"At the moment the market isnt really paying for quality," comments Dalgetys Barry Barker. "The rewards just arent there." His remarks are backed by NABIM estimates that only about 14% of this harvests wheat varieties are in the top-notch group 1 category for bread-making – in 1990 the figure was about 35%. "It is not looking good," says a millers spokesman. &#42