Extreme levels of rain and temperatures much lower than normal over the past four months have ensured cereal crops have faced more disease pressures this year than for decades.
As a result, most growers are not looking forward to the coming harvest with any enthusiasm.
However, yesterday, after admitting that the season had been very challenging, Lee Robinson, of seed breeding company Limagrain, saw some benefit from the adverse conditions.
After several benign years where varieties had not been challenged by the conditions, he thought this year’s weather would really sort out the “wheat from the chaff” in terms of the qualities of the varieties being bred.
Speaking in Perth, where he was meeting members of the Scottish grain trade, Robinson said: “It may be doom and gloom for all growers at the moment but in the longer term it could be doing a lot of good for the industry as it will sort out the poorer material in the breeding programmes.”
While some growers were beguiled by high yields, Robinson said his company, which is owned by a French farming co-operative and which is the fourth-largest seed house in the world, wanted to concentrate on durability and consistency in bringing out varieties.
Right from the end of March when the first signs of yellow rust started appearing in wheat crops, there has been an onslaught of fungal diseases culminating now in high levels of fusarium.
In addition, with the wet weather there has been far more lodging seen this year, with Robinson’s colleague, Mark Glew, confirming that he had seen more barley “on the floor” than had been the case for years.
The problem for growers is that their main information for choosing varieties comes from the publication of the recommended lists by the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA).
This information assesses a range of varietal attributes, including disease resistance – but as it also includes yields it is not published until late season.
That gives a real problem for growers who even although this year’s harvest will be about a fortnight later than normal, will still be hoping to start sowing wheat and winter barley for 2013 in September.
Robinson said because of the exceptional circumstances, he wanted to see HGCA publish as much information about disease resistance levels in all varieties as soon as possible. “I think pressure should be put on them to publish what is now known about some varieties as early as they can. We saw last year some varieties had weaknesses and these have really manifested themselves this year. That would be a good service to growers who are, after all, the levy payers for the organisation.”
Reacting to the call, Simon Oxley of HGCA said he had no problem with the information going out. The control of the recommended list did not lie entirely with HGCA but with a consortium of parties including the British Society of Plant Breeders, the Maltsters Association of Great Britain and the milling industry group, NABIM.
It would be up to them if the information requested by Robinson was issued earlier this year. Oxley said the consortium would have winter barley data available by Thursday, 8 August and that of winter wheat by the end of the month.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 22 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North