Spring Seeds: Canadian error puts linseed into the frame

Contracts of up to £300/t could make linseed an attractive option for growers shying away from spring barley this spring.

The reason for the high price is Triffid. Contamination by the Canadian variety, which authorities believed had been removed from the system some time ago, caused exports of the crop to be suspended back in October and prices subsequently rose sharply.

Despite considerable efforts, it has proved difficult to isolate the source, says Guy Tasker of Saxon Agriculture. “It appears to be random, but widespread, in its nature.”

Even though the EU has just agreed a protocol to allow exports from Canada to begin again, there are still problems to be overcome, he says.

“Whether it will work remains to be seen. It requires a huge amount of testing, which may not be practical.”

The new fear is that all Canadian linseed will be crushed in North America, rather than exported on a boat, thus putting the EU crushing market at risk.

“Around 700,000t of linseed are imported into Europe from Canada each year, so the quantities are significant.”

In the meantime, while the confusion continues, UK growers are being encouraged to expand crop areas for food and non-food uses, he says. “There are good markets for the crop, with premiums available for stocks going for human consumption.”

Various contracts for £300/t are on offer. “In 2009, growers achieved good yields of 2.5-3t/ha and experienced a fairly easy harvest. It is not surprising there’s plenty of interest.”

Drilling can take place from March to May. “The most important consideration is the conditions, not the calendar. Linseed needs to be able to get up and way, so sowing should take place as things are warming up.”

Grow an early variety to help mitigate against the crop’s late harvest, he adds. “Earliness is paramount and there can be as much as three weeks’ difference between varieties.”

Both Abacus and Sunrise are good examples of early varieties, he says. “Don’t be put off by the fact they yield a bit less than the later types. If it starts to rain, any yield advantage disappears over the back of the combine, as the seed won’t thrash cleanly.”

Linseed offers an opportunity for low input costs and the soil structure benefits of its deep rooting ability. “This is particularly good for a following wheat crop and seems to be better than offered by peas,” he claims.

Abacus is the leading linseed variety in terms of certified seed sales, with around 20% of the market, says Jeremy Taylor of Senova.

“The total crop area has been variable in the last few years, but it was around 30,000ha in 2009. Abacus is established and has been consistent.”

Interest in linseed for 2010 has been helped by the situation with poor spring barley prospects, as well as the Canadian GM error, he confirms.

“What growers have to weigh up with linseed is getting the right balance between yield and maturity. The later maturing varieties always yield more on paper, but the practicalities of getting that yield are far more difficult.”

Flea beetle is often an issue, so seed must be treated, he notes. “Flea beetles start to move into crops as it warms up.”

Seed rates should be in the region of 650 seeds / sq m to guarantee yields, he says. “Obviously this varies with thousand grain weight and the time of drilling, as there is such a wide sowing window with linseed.”

Barry Barker of Masstock says there has been a noticeable increase in linseed interest than in previous years, but adds that there are still reasonable supplies of seed around.

“Sales are ahead for the time of year and the crop seems to be replacing spring barley in the west and south east. Growers in East Anglia are still to make their decisions and have the option to continue drilling wheat.”


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