Drought could see seed shortage this autumn

Seed retailers and merchants attending Cereals were all in agreement that seed supplies for this autumn are already very tight, with barley and oat seed potentially being 25% short, forcing growers to go with their second and third choices.

The very dry growing conditions in many parts of the country are expected to hit yields of seed crops and make a finely balanced supply and demand situation worse than usual.

Their advice was to get seed orders in as soon as possible and be prepared to consider their second or third variety choices, if required.

Not surprisingly, winter barley was singled out by everyone. “We’ve got the lowest multiplication area for winter barley for some time and yields are bound to be affected,” said Lee Bennett of Openfield. “There won’t be enough to go round.”

“Most barley seed has already sold,” said David Waite of Frontier Agriculture. “The whole industry is short. It means that every variety will have to sell.”

Limited availability means that growers may be forced into different variety choices, he added.

Hybrid barleys have gone, reported Barry Barker of Masstock. “The dry season has suited them and choices like Volume have been snapped up. And we can’t bring seed in from abroad to meet demand.”

He also highlighted the “English” spring barley varieties, such as Tipple and Quench, as likely to be short. “With crops such as winter beans, we don’t know yet. But sales are already underway, which suggests that some crops are struggling.”

There would also be limited availability of preferred wheat varieties, he added. “There are two things coming into play here. Some of these varieties have limited seed production, yet demand for them has gone up, due to their good performance. JB Diego is a good example.”

Preferred varieties always sell out, pointed out Jeremy Taylor of Senova, which markets JB Diego. “The Recommended List has got longer, but only certain varieties on it sell well. We would expect our two top selling wheat varieties, Scout and JB Diego to sell out, just as they did last year.

“But we do increase production, in line with our predictions, so that growers aren’t disappointed. The difference this year is that they’ll be gone sooner rather than later.”

Other wheat varieties predicted to sell out very soon were KWS Santiago, Viscount, Oakley and Grafton.

Lee Bennett warned that prices would be another shock. “The grain price has gone up so much that every tonne of seed will have another £100 on it compared with last year, just to cover the grain cost. Then, just like all businesses, the haulage and processing costs have increased.”

Oilseed rape seed supplies aren’t such an issue, everyone agreed. According to both Messers Waite and Barker, sales of hybrids are well ahead compared with previous years and will continue to increase.

“To date, around 80-85% of our sales have been hybrids,” reported Mr Waite. “That just shows how much better they’re performing this year, in more challenging conditions.”