Some certified lost, but seed supply should be OK
By Andrew Blake
SEED merchants breathed a sigh of relief last weekend as combines returned to work after lying idle for over a week.
Some certified seed crops have been lost and prices have firmed, but there should be supplies enough for everyone, albeit of restricted variety choice.
But with germination levels of recently harvested crops unknown until mid-week, the main advice is that growers will have to pay more attention to seed rates.
Before the rain cleared, no more than 30% of Cargills seed wheat crops had been gathered. By Monday up to 60% was done, but lately cut samples have definite signs of sprouting, says the firms Peter Croot. "We have had a temporary respite. Old die-hards like Rialto are showing plenty of sprouting, but I am quite impressed with Malacca, which has no signs yet."
Apart from spurring price hikes of £20-£30/t, the most significant effect of the bad weather has been to put yet more pressure on meeting the growing demand for early autumn drilling. "It has taken 14 days off our processing capacity and we face a frantic fortnight," says Mr Croot.
Benchmark C2 generation single-purpose dressed Consort is £255-£270/t, up £25 on 14 days ago. "Other varieties are up more or less depending on royalties and supply."
Seed crops south of the Thames and in Essex have suffered most, says Neil Pateman, seeds director of Beds-based Banks Agriculture. "We have lost oats in Hants and I am especially concerned about Equinox [wheat].
"My view is that there will not be a shortage of wheat seed, but there will be a lack of freedom when it comes to variety choice. The weather has taken some of the surplus out of the market. I would put that surplus at 40% but you could argue it is more."
Quality and germination in ripe crops soaked for a fortnight will be critical, says Profarmas managing director, Paul Singleton. "About 7-8% of our Proleaf seed is over-wintered and the germination is 96-97%." By contrast levels in crops whose dormancy was broken by the hot spell before the rain are likely to be much nearer the 85% minimum standard, he warns.
Single-purposed dressed C2 prices range from £220-£230/t for Riband to £310/t for Claire, which was in strong demand and already tightening before the downpours, says Mr Singleton.
John Poulton of Essex-based Direct Farm Marketing estimates 70% of his seed crops are in the barn with half collected before the rain. The firm began delivering wheat seed in the first week of August and he is confident it will not have to make any 50% refunds offered for failing to meet agreed dates. Growers pay a premium of £20/t for the service, he notes.
Seed vigour rather than simple germination is of greater concern this season, he believes.
Mainstream heavily multiplied varieties like Consort, Equinox and Savannah should be in reasonable supply, says James Wallace of Peterborough-based Daltons Seeds.
"The concern is for minor varieties such as Beaufort, Hussar and Haven, which is still very popular in the south. We had one crop of Haven. Charger must be one for concern because of its sprouting."
With 90% of Kent-based M Hancock & Sons seed crops cut by Monday and germinations generally good, seeds manager, Andrew Bourne, was confident local demand could be met. "The vast majority of results are better than we could have hoped."
But Dalgetys David Neale says that despite widespread cutting over the weekend, overall seed supplies remain uncertain. "We are still looking at fragile embryos and there is concern over handling. Hagbergs and proteins have changed, and although combines have been moving we cant reverse the clock."
lEarly tetrazolium test results on Tuesday suggest supplies are still in the balance, says Dalgetys Mr Neale. "50% of six samples from Essex have failed and 12 of 28 from Wilts have visual sprouting." Samples from other eastern counties are "borderline". "There is a high percentage we wouldnt want to bring into our plants." *
Trials show benefits from lower rates
Two years of HGCA trials suggest lower seed rates than many growers use can bring considerable benefits without risking yield loss, says a leading agronomist.
The practice can cut seed costs, reduce lodging and help cut disease, says ADASs John Spink.
"In experiments drilling at the end of September, we have found the optimum seed rate for the past two years has been 80-100 seeds a sq m."
Clearly growers must build in insurance if establishment is expected to be much less than the average 75%, due to slugs, poor seed-beds or location, he says.
But the supposed tillering capacity of different varieties is not a consideration. "When you reduce the competition, even apparently shy tillering wheats like Soissons can give 15 shoots."
But extrapolating the research figures to arrive at rates for early September sowing could be risky, he warns. "We are hoping to get the HGCA to test beyond these dates."
Drilling date Seed rate Plants est
(a sq m) (a sq m)
End Sept 100 70
Mid-Oct 150 100
Mid-Nov 250 170