I think that it is fair to say that for several years, probably back in the days of ADAS, farmers were spoilt a little with the amount of ‘technical’ information that was being offered to them on a regular and on-going basis – a lot of this coming from the well respected NIAB who provided us with annually updated booklets which included all the latest material to be placed on its various Recommended Lists.

The crops that were being regularly tested included cereals, grass and legumes, forage maize and forage crops – we even had a separate booklet on fodder beet. Trial sites were located throughout the country and once a particular variety within a particular crop group was placed on a NIAB Recommended List, farmers were safe in the knowledge that they could grow it with confidence as it had been trialled under various conditions and locations throughout the UK. My, how times have changed. Successive governments trimmed the ‘agricultural’ budget resulting in a much reduced series of government sponsored crop trials and more reliance on commercial companies and small on farm trials.

Pearce Seeds Ltd, is an agronomy company based near Yeovil specializing in seeds, fertilizers and crop protection products and trade throughout the Westcountry. They identified this lack of official trials information some years ago resulting in them using their Rosedown Farm base as a site for several sets of trials, which included herbage seed, forage maize, cereals and gamecover crops. This exercise was certainly successful in that it provided their customers with a lot of useful information that was locally sourced, but unfortunately, due to the restriction of available land, there was a limit on the amount of information that they could provide – the frustration of which ultimately providing the answer.

Plumber Farm is situated in the heart of the Blackmore Vale near Sturminster Newton, Dorset and became available to Pearce Seeds three years ago for the sole purpose of providing sufficient land on which to undertake a comprehensive set of trials within the main Westcountry cropping strategy. This enables them to now offer their customers a set of results that is not only locally sourced but, equally important, is statistically significant in that they correspond directly with NIAB trialling protocol. The farm lies on a stone brash cum clay loam, has an altitude of 230 ft. with a rainfall of 32” per annum and, as such, is deemed extremely representative of commercial farms within the region. All in all, at least 40 acres are devoted exclusively to crop trials. The national Cereals Event was held in Lincolnshire in June and it appears that this site is intended to be used for some years to come. However, based on the results of a straw poll on the gate and on the day, very few people travelled up from the south west as they felt that yield results from a Lincolnshire site did not fully reflect local and more regional growing conditions and it is this type of situation that fully endorses Pearce Seeds’ decision to invest this huge amount of money, time and expertise into giving their customers a total package of regional data and demonstrate yet again their total commitment to service and quality.

The farm is currently hosting cereal trial sites for wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape plus the only treated Triticale trial site in the country, the results of which would be of great interest to not only the mainly arable farmer, but also the mixed arable and livestock farmer where virtually all the cereals produced would be for animal feed. In addition to the obviously important yield information, other trials on cereals include work on disease resistance and straw length with one particular trial being to deliberately expose wheats to fusarium by drilling directly into maize stubble. Earlier work on septoria resistance has resulted in them marketing “Exsept’’ – a variety of winter wheat that never did make in onto the NIAB Recommended List, but, as the name suggests, has “Ex’’cellent resistance to “Sept’’oria and has subsequently proved to be an extremely popular choice with growers in the region where septoria is a particular problem.

Indeed, and following on from that theme, Pearce Seeds are working with a number of varieties that never did make the fully Recommended National List, but, following their trials, have established where they do excel and then market accordingly. Also Maris Otter – a malting barley and Maris Widgeon – a winter wheat primarily used for thatching are still being maintained despite being well past their days as far as the List is concerned.

Pearce Seeds work extremely closely with all the major plant breeders in the UK and northern Europe and, in so-doing, are able to monitor the progress of a number of varieties that, in all probability, would never be subjected to this type of trials exposure – one such example being Bonfire – a new variety of forage rye that has exceptional early vigour and regrowth. With the west country being in a maritime climate, diseases that spread rapidly can prove to be disastrous and agronomists need to know local varietal disease resistance of all their cropping portfolio. Having recognized the problem, Pearce Seeds have now created 3000 separate meter square plots with three of the major European plant breeders specifically for observing diseases within individual new cereal varieties.

Having successfully established the NIAB trialling protocol with cereals, it was felt appropriate to extend this to forage maize and, in so-doing, they now have a total of 423 individual plots ranging in location from Plumber Farm, a coastal site at Bridport, Dorset, an extremely marginal hilltop site above Chard to Melksham in Wiltshire. In addition, they have a whole new portfolio of as yet un-named varieties that is being trialled at Rosedown Farm from which the best will be selected to go forward into fully replicated trials next year. This wide ranging choice of sites and conditions will expose trial material to a huge array of varying challenges and has to be one of, if not the most comprehensive set of maize trials ever undertaken specifically for west country growers.

The rest of the acreage at Plumber Farm (140 acres) is used for the multiplication of high grade seed lots and for herbage seed production with 22 acres being down to a seed crop of TETRAFLORUM, an Italian Tetraploid Ryegrass variety which has very early vigour and is ideally suited to sowing after cereals or maize.

It establishes well before the onset of winter and then starts growing exceptionally early in the Spring to give an early cut of silage or grazing prior to going back into maize. Alternatively, it can be left purely as a conservation regime giving a further three cuts during the rest of the season under favourable moist conditions.

Plumber Farm hosted two Open Days on 22nd and 23rd of June with 120 farmers attending – all of whom expressed great interest and gratitude at the amount of regional trials data that was being generated specifically for them – and across a wide range of crops. There is no doubt that farmers need a huge amount of technical and varietal information on which to make their individual choices – but information generated by a much more local and regional bias is becoming increasingly important.

Pearce Seeds and Plumber Farm are doing just that.