March 27, 2014
Partnership Growing for Quality Seed
With more than 30 years seed growing experience behind him, agricultural business manager, John Harmer currently has a quarter of the 800 ha of arable land for which he is responsible on four separate Shropshire farms devoted to Master Seeds quality seed production.
More demanding than commodity cropping it undoubtedly is. But he finds the quality seed growing partnership he has developed with Agrii seed manager, Diane Griffiths on the one hand and agronomist, Charlie Prince on the other a very valuable string to his arable bow.
Over the years John has grown a vast range of crops for seed, from winter and spring cereals and pulses to mustard, linseed, millet, grass seed, borage and evening primrose. This season his main seed crops are Sanette and Propino spring barley, KWS Glacier winter barley, Panorama winter wheat and Daytona peas.
“Seed growing is not something for anyone who wants to produce a big heap of grain as easily and cheaply as possible,” he stressed. “Like the milling wheat we grow, it requires the right rotations and facilities, professional management, and continual commitment and attention to detail.
“For instance, Di and I have to plan the seed crops into our rotations very carefully. Equally, Charlie and I need to be spot on with our agronomy to keep them scrupulously clean as well as productive. We need to harvest all the crops at the right time, with clean combines and the right settings. And we must dry the grain steadily and store it well for the best germination and cleanliness.
“It is, however, very rewarding – in interest, satisfaction and margins. It gives us an early look at new varieties which may suit our main cropping. At the same time, it ensures we keep well on top of weed problems in our rotations.”
Grass weed control is, Charlie Prince has no doubt, the single biggest agronomic challenge he and John face with their seed production; late-emerging brome and ryegrass being particular bugbears.
“We use pre-planting Roundup Max for a clean start, and prioritise both pre and peri-emergence herbicides to tackle grass weeds when they’re at their most vulnerable,” he explained. “Then we’re back in – ahead of T0 wherever possible – for a good early spring clean. We’re always on the alert to nip problems in the bud.
“Disease control is also a priority, of course, for both cleanliness and productivity; as is keeping the crops standing. But we find the right combination of T(-1) seed treatments and a well-planned and thorough fungicide and PGR programme from T0 with the accent firmly on prevention invariably does the job.”
“To ensure Master Seeds continue to set the standard in UK seed quality, we set high standards for our growers,” pointed our Di Griffiths.
“For instance, we don’t see oilseed rape as a good enough break ahead of cereal seed and, wherever possible, want a two year gap from another cereal. Having said that, John’s varied rotations – including a range of vegetable crops as well as potatoes – allow us both to take full advantage of single season cereal breaks that are at least as good as many rotations’ double ones.
“We need the right quality of seed in sufficient quantity to meet our customers’ needs. So we work closely with our seed producers to help them do so, and reward them for the extra cost and effort we know it involves. It’s very much a partnership based on trust and commitment on both sides.”
Both the length of time over which John Harmer has grown for Master Seeds and the extent of his annual seed growing speaks volumes for the value of this partnership. “It works well for us,” he concluded. “Our relationship has evolved over the years to make it work as well as it can. The certainty that growing seed crops on a Master Seeds contract provides is particularly valuable when commodity prices are so volatile; especially so as we can lock into the base price to which our flat rate seed growing premium is added at any time between planting and harvest using the futures market.
“Having an agronomist with access to the best management advice on growing new varieties from the country’s most extensive testing and proving programme is really valuable too. It all helps make the job less risky and more rewarding.”