Farmers warned spring seeds carrying higher levels of disease

SPRING barley seed could be ­carrying far higher levels of ­disease than normal, farmers have been warned.

Grain drills across the country are only now starting to work on lighter soils.

But the advent of sowing weather has brought a warning from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) where the plant pathologists believe seed samples are carrying “unprecedented” levels of two fungal diseases: fusarium and microdochium.

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On samples they have already seen, the experts believe that more than 40 per cent of last year’s grain being sown this spring is carrying these diseases, which have multiplied in the adverse weather conditions of 2012.

For farmers hoping to sell their 2013 barley crops to maltsters for use in either brewing for beer or distilling for whisky, the danger is rejection with buyers unwilling to buy infected grain. In beer the fungus is thought to cause “gushing”, where an unshaken bottle is opened and the beer suddenly foams up and spills out.

The fungal diseases can also cause reduced yields, low ­specific weights, and reduced seed germination. If used in fodder, the mycotoxins in the infected grain could also harm livestock.

Dr Fiona Burnett, of the SRUC, advised farmers to get their seed tested and treated to minimise the risk. She expressed concern that due to the bad 2012 harvest and the consequential rise in seed prices many more farmers were using their own seed this year. Testing some of those farm saved seed samples had shown them to be heavily infected.

She said: “We are in uncharted territory as the infection levels are far higher than we normally deal with in seed treatments. It, therefore, seems prudent to drill seed rates that will allow for some plant losses to seedling blight.”

She added that while the ­advice was always to drill into a fine, warm seed-bed this was somewhat wishful thinking in the cold conditions currently being experienced.

“The double whammy of cold wet soils, slow emergence and high infection levels on seed could really reduce plant counts,” she said.

While fusarium and microdochium can affect all cereals including wheat the area of spring barley this year is predicted to increase dramatically due to last year’s wet autumn cutting sowings at that time and subsequent failures in over-wintered crops.

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PROPOSALS forcing agricultural trailers to undergo an annual road test came under fire yesterday.

MEP George Lyon and NFU Scotland criticised the move ahead of a debate next month at the European Parliament’s transport committee. Lyon has tabled, along with MEP Phil Bennion, amendments to the proposals to exempt trailers with a maximum loading capacity of less than 3.5 tonnes.

He said: “Forcing farmers to test trailers every year would put further strain on the industry after what has been another tough winter.

“Accidents involving light and medium trailers generally occur as a result of overloading or excess speed. Testing trailers would not improve people’s driving.”

Lyon said he hoped the Commission would think again and reach a deal that protected road users without punishing farmers. Jamie Smart, of NFU Scotland’s legal and technical committee said the proposals had the “potential to heap cost, bureaucracy and inconvenience on to farming while delivering little genuine safety benefit”.