Seed standards could suffer in MAFF review

30 March 2001

Seed standards could suffer in MAFF review

By Andrew Blake

OFFICIAL cereal seed standards that have served the industry for over 25 years could disappear under MAFF proposals to cut certification costs.

Initial reactions are that the Higher Voluntary Standards would need to be replaced by an equally robust trade-based scheme to satisfy growers and end-users.

HVS currently imposes tighter limits on varietal and species purity, wild oats, loose smut and ergot than EU and UK minimum standards. About 70% of C1 and C2 cereal seed meets HVS.

With MAFF charging industry an estimated £1.2m for cereal seed certification in England and Wales, where about 80% of certified seed is grown, ways to save £166,000 are being proposed. A similar review is under way in Scotland.

Main targets include removing HVS for varietal purity, reduced monitoring of seed testing stations, and cutting the number of control plots which are inspected to maintain purity in seed lots.

The review was prompted by the British Society of Plant Breeders and has NFU backing.

Breeders do not advocate abandoning HVS, stresses the BSPBs Penny Maplestone. "But we are suggesting its removal as a statutory requirement."

An industry-run scheme with independent auditing could set standards more relevant to growers than at present and be more cost-effective, she explains.

With certification fees rising 5% a year recently there is a clear need for change, says NFU seeds adviser Fiona Reilly. Increasing seed costs encourage more home-saving, she notes. "We want to break out of that vicious spiral. But we dont want to get rid of HVS. Growers and end-users like it."

Changes would need care, says Andy Mitchell, head of seed certification at NIAB. "Anything which adversely affects the perceived quality of certified seed would be a bad move."

Relaxing purity standards could be risky. "Growers could lose markets where millers and maltsters are looking for individual varieties."

With most seed suppliers already trading at or above HVS, the key is how farmers perceive seed quality under a modified system, says Dalgetys Barry Barker. "If HVS didnt exist we would probably have to spend more promoting our standards."

"We would be very disappointed to see HVS dropped," says Alan Ridealgh, general manager at Muntons Maltings which processes about 0.25m tonnes of barley a year.

"It provides a unique selling point for UK malt abroad. It covers both variety and species purity and came in for a very good reason – to maintain high standards after we adopted EU seed certification."

For the millers NABIMs Alex Waugh believes commercial pressure would ensure suppliers continued to maintain seed purity.

Attempts to strip costs from farming must be welcomed, says Rank Hovis wheat director Peter Jones. "But the industry is becoming much more variety-specific, and not just in the UK. So anything which debilitated the product would not be applauded."


* Aims to save £166,000/yr.

* Could ditch HVS.

* Varietal purity key area.

* Knock-on effects concern.


&#8226 Aims to save £166,000/yr.

&#8226 Could ditch HVS.

&#8226 Varietal purity key area.

&#8226 Knock-on effects concern.

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