How saving your own seed has benefits beyond cost savings

If it all starts with the seed, we are fortunate in Ireland to have very high quality certified seed.

have often wondered why not a little more effort was made to filter out the broken kernels and hulls – the cost would be very low – but the bad stuff is rare to find and, with the resistant foxtail now prevalent, this n It’s not just wild oats that we have to watch out for anymore.

Until recently, I rarely saved my own seed. On a fairly small scale, the savings weren’t worth the hassle at the time I had paid someone to clean and prepare the seeds for me.

But if enough care is taken to do the job correctly, the benefits can be greater than just saving the cost of seed.

In years when levels of seed-borne diseases are high, it may be advisable to chemically treat the seeds, but I don’t see how the systematic application of a fungicide without identifying a specific risk fits into a system of integrated pest management.

This is an environmental hazard, but it also affects seed performance.

My experience is that undressed seed will emerge faster and give stronger seedling growth than dressed seed sown in the same soil.

If I have doubts about the quality of my own seeds, I have them tested with the Department.

In biologically active soil, I want the germinating seed to quickly associate with the surrounding biology, and this is inhibited by the use of a fungicide on the seed.

Even in less active soils, the damage caused by the dressing’s phytotoxicity must be outweighed by the protective value the dressing gives to the seed – and I’m not convinced this is the case most of the time.

If I don’t need to chemically dress my seed, it’s relatively easy to clean it at home. Farm scale seed cleaners aren’t expensive to buy or run and there are plenty of used older examples if you don’t mind a bit of tinkering.

But it’s still dusty, dirty work, and often at a busy hour, so I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t see a benefit in it.

I have observed better performance with untreated seed saved on my own farm than with certified untreated seed of the same variety planted alongside. (It is a condition of some contact with growers that I buy Certified seed and it is sometimes possible to get this without dressing if the assembler is given sufficient notice.)

I don’t think this is a reflection on the quality of certified seed, and there are several possible explanations.

Seeds harvested from the same area they are sown in have been exposed to the local environment and local biology and, if given the opportunity, will associate with that biology more quickly than equally good seeds from from another area.

It’s the difference between arriving at a party full of old friends or arriving at a party where you’re a complete stranger – things move much faster with your own team.

Early seedling development is a crucial stage for plants and better early vigor results in a healthier and more productive plant.

In addition, the study of epigenetics indicates that plants adapt genetically to local conditions, so it may be more beneficial to use seeds grown on my own land for several generations rather than bringing in seeds from other regions.

I’m happy to pay royalties on my farm-saved seed because I depend on the seed industry here to support plant breeders and test varieties under local conditions.

I would be even happier to see some of those funds dedicated to eliminating unnecessary pesticide use and examining the benefits of growing seeds on the farms where they are produced.

Andrew Bergin is a farmer based near Athy, Co Kildare

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