Farmer Focus: Are the right varieties being bred?

Rain, or lack of it, still features on my harvest forecast barometer. Although we have had 38mm since my last Focus report, it is still short of our 50mm monthly average.

Since the beginning of the year we have had 133mm, which is half of what we should have had by now.

Having said that, with all the dry weather we are caught up on spring under-sowing and lambing has now finished with all lambs born outside, unassisted and with very few problems.

See also: Plough, min-till and no-till compared: year one

I am now looking forward to the upcoming shows and events of late May and early June which are regulars on my annual calendar.

A recent addition is the Breeders Day at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

Diluted genetics

I went there for the first time a few years ago and it was an incredible eye opener into the world of plant breeding, but it made me question the genetics we actually end up with on farm.

From my one-to-one discussions on the day there was a degree of frustration from some of the pre-breeders in that the genetics they passed on to the breeders, who take that material and then mix it with existing material they own, was being diluted.

This is the material that ends up on the AHDB Recommended lists.

Genetics that can increase yield, provide better plant architecture for weed suppression, better rooting systems to scavenge for nutrients and increased disease and pest resistance were or were not being selected, depending on breeders’ own agendas.

Although some genetics from pre-breeders are not necessarily of practical use on farm, we need to encourage our Levy Board to encourage traits that farmers want, rather than what the breeders want, if we are to meet the challenges we face and still make a profit.


John Pawsey is an organic farmer at Shimpling Park in Suffolk. He started converting the 650ha of arable cropping in 1999, and also contract farms an additional 915ha organically, growing wheat, barley, oats, beans and spelt.