1 September 2000


Farm-saved seed has long provided the start for a

Northants farm managers crops, and he sees no reason

to change. Andrew Blake reports

IF anything the trend to earlier autumn cereal sowing makes it even less likely that Bill Gibson will be tempted to use more commercial seed.

As farm manager on the 1400ha (3500 acre) Cottesbrooke Estate, near Northampton, Mr Gibson believes he can produce farm-saved seed of a quality at least as good as certified material.

However, the key reason for his DIY approach is to ensure specific supplies are ready when it is time to drill. Relying on merchants can mean first choices are not always available when required.

"Merchants naturally like to work on runs of the same seed for logistical reasons."

Last years experience shows that even sprouted grains are no deterrent to farm-saving, he adds.

His conversion to farm-saved seed began in the mid 1980s when he managed the Royal Farms at Windsor. It proved a saviour in the wet autumn of 1985 when certified supplies were delayed, he says.

"There were a lot of negative vibes at the time and question marks over whether we could apply the dressings correctly.

"We also had the extra expense of having to buy all our own 0.5t bags – previously we used 50kg ones. But it was a giant leap forward, and the £8/acre cost was soon spread out because we found we could recycle them if we graded out sub-standard ones."

A Kamas cleaning table, introduced a year later, was the next step forward. "We found we were producing seed that looked significantly better than bought-in. It had big bold berries for ideal germination."

Tests at NIAB confirmed that the farm-saved product was suitable for use as seed, and ever since nearly all his crops have been produced from it.

The policy continued when he moved to Cottesbrooke seven years ago. "Before then they had always used commercial seed."

The 1000ha (2500 acres) of heavy clay produces wheat, oilseed rape, and beans, with rotational grass and maize from the forage area offering other breaks.

About 60% of the wheats are added-value varieties, originally Hereward but increasingly Malacca, the rest being Savannah, Riband and some Soissons for late sowing. "Our average yield is 9-9.5t/ha, and I doubt whether it would be any better using commercial seed.

"We have been moving drilling quite a bit earlier. I am convinced it is the right move, though I probably havent lowered the seed rate enough yet. We begin around Sept 5-7 and last autumn started at 125 seeds/sq m, our lowest yet. In the past we tended to use 300 across the board, and we will still go up to 450 for Soissons sown in late October." &#42

Farm-saved winter wheat seed can be cleaned hard to obtain a robust sample which provides vigorous growth from early sowings, says Bill Gibson.

Tips for farm-saving care

Pursuing the farm-saved route needs care and several factors must be considered, says Mr Gibson.

&#8226 Seed source Small amounts of C1 seed are bought in every two years or so to maintain varietal purity in samples destined for farm-saving. "Its simply good practice." Ideally the crop for seed is sown after a two-year break. "That is easy for us with all our grass. Wild oats are removed as a matter of course. For oilseed rape try to pick areas that are free of cleavers."

&#8226 Mobile processor "It is very important to have a good person heading the team working for you. I have used TGS Seeds of Bury St Edmunds since we started and Steve Thurston is the key man looking after the casuals." Ensuring seed treatments are applied correctly through an audit trail is vital, he maintains. Generally the task is done in a day.

&#8226 Seed crop production Husbandry need be no different to non-seed crops. "We dont fuss around after our seed wheat crops, but we do use a full three-spray fungicide programme as for our milling varieties and pgrs everywhere."

&#8226 Seed harvest Make sure the combine works on the same variety ahead of the seed crop and then clean down to minimise contamination, advises Mr Gibson. "Combine at a sensible moisture, say below 18%, but not too dry." Excessively dry seed sown into dry soil risks poor emergence, he explains. "We never put our seed near a drier or into the system, where it could pick up other varieties. We simply tip it on the floor before processing."

&#8226 Seed treatment All potential seed is tested for fusarium. "We have never yet had any so badly infected that we have had to reject it. Beret Gold is a cost-effective dressing and has done a good job for us over the years. Today Baytan is too expensive to justify. But the new dressings coming along look interesting. I shall probably try a bit of Jockey, even at £170/t, on first wheat after set-aside where we have had a lot of volunteers which may carry over take-all. I may also use it to allow us to drill some second wheat a bit earlier."

&#8226 Royalties Initially Mr Gibson was very much against the introduction of royalties on farm-saved seed. "But I have no problems now. We must recognise that breeders wont produce new varieties unless they get some form of income. We have to make the payments or our potential will soon slip behind."

&#8226 Traceability Professionally produced farm-saved seed, with treatments accurately applied and monitored, provides reassurance and accountability for buyers of the ACCS registered estates grain, maintains Mr Gibson. He markets it all through several outlets including SCATS/BDR, Glencore and Cargill. "No-one has ever said that they are unhappy that we are using farm-saved seed, and I would give them short shrift if they did."

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