With a higher than usual proportion of over-yeared winter cereal seed on farm this year, growers need to plan its use carefully, advises a national agronomy company.

The wet autumn 2019 saw many growers fail to compete their intended drilling plans – the annual AHDB survey records a 25% drop in the Great Britain winter wheat area and 34% for winter barley compared to autumn 2018.

“The majority of growers will have at least some carried-over seed to plant after last year’s washout autumn,” says Lee Harker, seed manager for ProCam. “But it is easy to forget that this may not perform as well as new seed.”

Mr Harker advises that seed originally purchased for planting last autumn should be sown at the start of drilling windows, so it goes into the best soil conditions. “Clearly, growers and their agronomist need to ensure the variety being planted is suited to the planned drilling date,” he says. “But if this checks out, then definitely consider drilling over-yeared seed at the start of drilling windows while soils are still warm and the weather kinder, to give it the best possible start.”

Over-yeared seed should also be germination tested so that seed rates can be adjusted to account for any fall-off in germination. While germination percentage should have declined only slightly – since seed from the 2019 harvest was generally of good quality – this cannot be assumed, especially where storage conditions were not ideal. “Also, even if its percentage germination is good, there is no guarantee that the vigour with which it grows away won’t be lower, which is why planting in kinder conditions is important – particularly if there are concerns about slugs.”

Lastly, Mr Harker warns that seed orders should be placed promptly. “If you are having to buy-in extra seed as a top-up, don’t leave this until the last minute. Winter cereal seed will potentially be in short supply this year – only two-thirds of seed crops were planted last autumn because of the poor weather.”