The greater use of hybrid seed varieties could help to secure the faster utilisation of improved genetic ‘gain’ within the Irish grain sector, according to a leading agri-seed specialist.

John Burgess, who has a track record in the international plant breeding sector, believes Ireland should “speed-up” the selection of genetics from the European Union (EU) common catalogue in key crops such as barley, oilseed rape, maize and beet.

Burgess, who recently set up the AgroÉireann seed consultancy, said seed and variety trialing should be broadened to “strengthen the scrutiny” of selection beyond the main suppliers of seed.

“In this way, farmers can directly get a handle of what traits are valuable to them in their own locality.

“EU-certified seed is on an equal footing to that produced in Ireland. Over yeared seed from EU breeders is already offering farmers in Scotland, for example, the chance to combat wetter winters.”

The seed specialist is forecasting that Irelands’ tillage area expansion of plus 6% in 2022 will attract attention from European plant breeders.

Burgess said this is because the crop acreage in central and western Europe has suffered from drought, soil erosion and other climate extremes.

He has detailed how crop area fuels investment decisions.

“The UK’s departure from the EU only strengthens the path towards pan European cereals and oilseeds, which Ireland as a whole can put to its advantage”

Currently seed choices offered to Irish farmers directly follow the trade flow, and Ireland unlike the UK, but excluding Northern Ireland, retains full EU common catalogue access.

Burgess said this will make Ireland an attractive proposition.

 “This key principle allows all member states to cultivate the same variety,” he added.

Burgess is keen to point out that all field crops, apart from grass or potatoes, are bred outside of Ireland.

“This is nothing new. But the ability of hybrids to ‘travel’ agronomically means Ireland can, and should, seize upon breeder investment, especially in cereals.

“It is now widely envisaged that farmers will have a far wider selection of hybrid barley, rye, oilseed rape, wheat and perhaps triticale varieties to selected from.”

The agri-seed specialist also contends that hybrid barleys will become more mainstream in advance of 2030.

Burgess believes that this in turn means that the use of farm-saved seed will decline.

“Wetter autumns in the future and earlier planting of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) tolerant genetics will be used to combat this problem.

“Drier springs also put hybrid cereals at an advantage, given their faster and deeper rooting. This again will help Ireland’s tillage industry to deal with drier seasons, or nitrogen limits.”