NAAC Mobile Seed Processing chairman and Evans & Pearce Ltd’s Rob White provides some topical answers on farm-saved seed
NAAC Mobile Seed Processing chairman and Evans & Pearce Ltd’s Rob White (left) provides some topical answers on farm-saved seed. Dominic Kilburn puts the questions to him. Why do so many farmers choose to farm-save their seed? Farm-saved seed is a tried and tested way forward for farmers. Giving more control over the quality of the seed that is kept, for regeneration and enhancing yields through natural acclimatisation. Add to this the seed is on farm when it is required, enabling timely drilling, and it also offers growers value for money. Typically, FSS will generate a considerable saving for the grower; on average between 50-100/t.The ability to custom select the varieties that do best on each farmer’s land, the fact that seed is ready for drilling at the optimum moment and the considerable financial savings enjoyed are all powerful motivators for farmers who choose to exercise their right to farm-save their seed. How has seed regulation affected the industry in the past 20 years? The NAAC has fought hard for the rights of farmers to keep their own seed but it has become more difficult in recent years, especially due to FSS limitations with crops like oilseed rape. Farm saving of seed is subject to the enquiries of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB), which tracks and monitors the use of FSS. The NAAC has developed a working relationship with BSPB and it also represents farmers’ views in Brussels; this is particularly relevant as EU seed production regulation is currently being reviewed. A Royalty payment is now charged on each tonne of seed processed by the farmer on behalf of the breeder of that variety. This is collected, in most cases, by the seed processor or by the BSPB itself.However, recent moves by the industry and approaches to politicians in Brussels could mean a considerable tightening of the regulations surrounding seed use by further revision of the legislation and intellectual property rights (IPRs) that governs seed production and use. Developing each new variety is an expensive business for plant breeders, requiring major investment with no guarantee of success. Isn’t it fair that plant breeders have a greater control over licensing the use of their intellectual property which allows royalties to be collected? Many innovations require an intensive period of R&D, which is consuming of time and money. There is a responsibility on behalf of the innovator that what they develop is of use to the market. There is a mechanism in place that allows for breeder remuneration and the continued potential to farm-save seed. We believe that a change in legislation that favours the breeder further will not be in the best interests of the farmer. The BSPB’s ‘Fair Play’ campaign seeks to establish a level playing field in which all farmers contribute fairly for the benefits of using FSS and points out that continued investment in plant breeding is needed to safeguard the new varieties farmers depend on for improved yields, quality and disease resistance. Do you agree with this? NAAC mobile seed processors have played a big part in ensuring the success of the BSPB collection scheme. This has not been the case elsewhere in Europe where processors, breeders and growers have become estranged and frequently individual cases are settled in the courts; this cannot be deemed acceptable. I agree that breeders need remuneration for their efforts and a system for this is already in place. Breeding is part of the equation but only when allied with the skill of the farmer and above all the compliance of the weather. What are your concerns for the industry in the future?
It is estimated that worldwide 70-80 per cent of seed is still farm-saved by necessity and with the vagaries of weather and climate, as demonstrated over the past 12 months, we must have the flexibility in our farming systems to be able to ride out times of drought and flood alike. There is no doubt that the seed trade, through no fault of its own, has struggled to supply sufficient seed this year due to unprecedented weather conditions. Many farmers have had to go back to their barns to clean good quality samples of seed as they were unable to buy certified seed. This year has emphasised the importance of having a system where we are not reliant on the seed merchant to supply all our essential seed needs. It is important to note here that much of the hybrid barley seed stocks failed due to adverse weather conditions. This is not food security. If we were reliant on this technology we could be in trouble. FSS allows farmers to have the choice and flexibility they require to ensure that they can always grow the crops that they need. What would you propose to be a better way forward for the Industry?
Most of the major advances in plant development were made by the PBI (Plant Breeding Institute) using the thousands of varieties available on farm in the middle of the last century. This was more of a windfall than a product of research and development, but it is important to recognise the essential work this Government-funded organisation carried out. The PBI was privatised in 1989, but it laid the foundation for plant breeding today. I would like to see a return to Government funded research, supported by the farming community through royalties that would benefit all of us equally. Seed cleaning has been popular now for about 40 years, what makes a good seed cleaning service?
Seed Processing is a fastidious process which requires patience and care. The process is in itself satisfying for the operator, when the harvested grain is graded and cleaned and all the impurities removed and the finished sample of seed is an even berry that is clean and treated thoroughly. In my experience, a farmer will remember the service long after he has forgotten the bill! Value for money is also important. FSS will cost the grower less than Certified seed, but will grow equally as well and, in many cases, better. Many mobile seed processors are offering their customer’s micronutrient trace element seed dressings. How useful do you feel these are? One of our seed section members, South West Seeds, has been trialling a micronutrient fertiliser that is applied as a seed dressing. We have seen some remarkable results. In four trials across Cornwall in 2012, considerable improvements in plant confirmation were noted. The root systems were considerably greater than in the untreated crops, subsequently allowing increased uptake of plant nutrients. Where we carried out yield analysis, the results were up to a 20 per cent yield increase which, from an investment of 2.50/acre, is a pretty good return. More trials work needs to be done on this, but it seems to me that this low cost technology in improving soil structure and soil nutrients is putting value where we need it.
Pesticide workshops for agricultural contactors
The National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) and Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) have teamed up to host a series of workshops entitled ‘Pesticides: maximising crop production while minimising environmental impact’.
With free, half-day sessions taking place last month, and more planned for the autumn, the workshops offer essential information for professional contractors providing them with the latest on best practice when using pesticides.
The workshop programmes cover:
- Efficient use of pesticides – recent changes to pesticide regulations: the impact on your business and your customers’ business; responsible use of pesticides; sprayer testing.
- The role of agricultural contractors in delivering the Water Framework Directive.
- An introduction to the Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative – explaining the free training and advice that is available to help improve a contractor’s environmental work practices and environmental credentials;
- The workshops are free and include lunch. BASIS and NRoSO points are available.
To find out more about future events, please email [email protected]or call Freephone on 08456 448750.