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Independent.ie

Saturday 21 October 2017

Why rogue seeds are a growing problem for tillage farmers

Helen Harris

Helen Harris

At this time of the year we are not only planning for harvest, but thinking about next year's crop.

Every year we keep some home-saved seed and buy in new varieties. This year we have seen a huge difference with some of the old reliables like JB Diego.

It seems to be struggling with both disease resistance and yield. This means we have started looking for replacements.

Usually, the more disease- resistant varieties struggle with yield. It's very difficult to get a variety that ticks all the boxes. It has been an unusual year - rust and mildew have been a problem and this is something we rarely suffer from.

The perfect variety will have good resistance, good yield and good straw.

The advantages of saving our own seed is that it usually works out a good bit cheaper.

You can't do this every year. If seed is re-used too often, it may lose its vigour and not yield as well as it did in previous years.

We get our home-saved seed, cleaned and dressed. This also gives you a choice for dressings to apply. We have found over the last few years that the dressing 'Deter' has helped control aphids and the barley yellow dwarf virus.

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This combination of some home-saved and some certified means you are saving and growing new varieties for the following year.

You can also buy smaller amounts of different seed to see which suits your land.

There is no trial better than your own farm. If a variety doesn't do well, you have only grown a small amount and have minimised the risk for the following year.

If it does well, then you have the seed, rather than buying more.

However, when you pay a premium price, you expect a premium product, and this is not always the case with certified seed.

Over the last few years, we have seen more and more weeds and rogue seed in the certified seed.

This is both an inconvenience and a worry.

If you get some barley through your wheat, it's not the end of the world, but when you get weeds like sterile brome and black grass in the mix, it's very serious.

There should be some redress for the farmer. If a merchant sells contaminated seed, they should at least share the cost of controlling the weed.

It is very clear in a field if the weed came in the seed, as it will be sown in straight lines. If it is not in the line, then it didn't come in the seed.

It is very important that farmers keep the seed bag label to prove where it came from. The easiest thing is to take a photo of the labels as you sow.

One year's certified seed becomes the next year's home saved seed.

If the rogue seed cannot be controlled and is allowed to grow and multiply, then you are exacerbating the problem for the following year.

For example, it is very difficult to control wild oats in an oat crop.

As we continue to import more and different varieties, the problem will only get worse in the future.

The weeds that are coming in are more vigorous and harder to control.

The chemistry just isn't there to keep on top of them and resistance is a real problem. We need to improve all our systems to ensure the seed is cleaned better.

If we don't, we will struggle to control these problematic, invasive seeds.

As usual, the only person who suffers in this scenario is the farmer.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Follow them on Twitter @kildarefarmer

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