Spring barley is expected to return to a more normal area of 700,000 hectares in 2021 compared with more than one million hectares planted last year. However, although a large area of spring cropping went in the ground last season, it did not necessarily produce the yield and quality to provide enough seed to meet demand.
That is the view of Hutchinsons seed manager David Bouch. “We still have Planet and Laureate but Diablo is tighter. There was a perception that there would be a large area of spring seed crops but that was not necessarily the case.”
The poor weather at harvest led to germination levels of only 40-50 per cent in some spring barley crops originally destined for seed, he says.
While significant spring barley seed is farm saved, this is not the case with spring wheat seed, which is now in very tight supply. Lee Harker, seed manager at ProCam says: “Spring wheat seed is virtually unobtainable. There don’t tend to be farmers with home saved spring wheat as with spring barley as not as much [spring wheat] is grown. Growers saw spring wheat having a premium over spring barley of £30-£40/t as an opportunity but if they don’t have seed by now they probably won’t get it.”
Some growers were ‘forced’ into growing spring wheat last year as a replacement for winter cropping, adds Mr Harker. “They found they got on not badly which made them look again at the crop.”
While there is precious little UK spring wheat seed, there may be some European spring wheat to be had. However, Mr Bouch, warns: “European spring wheats are not necessarily ideal for the UK and there is limited data.”
Toby Reich, head of seeds at Wynnstay says sales of spring beans, spring oats and spring wheat seed at the company are up 15 per cent on 2019 sales (he is comparing them to a more ‘normal’ year rather than the exceptional year of 2020 when sales of spring crop seeds were high, replacing lack of winter plantings). “People are trying to diversify what they do and looking at their rotations.”
As of March 8, there was still a lot of purchasing and drilling of seed to take place, says Mr Reich. “The ground is still very wet. Even if the surface is dry, it is wet when you get deeper.”
Mr Harker adds: “Only now are people getting the chance to get on land and there will be pockets of more seed people are looking for. Perhaps some winter crops are still under water and some redrilling may need to be done or some OSR crops that have gone backwards because of larvae may need to be pulled.”