The Farmer's Magazine 49(2): 104-105 (Feb 1876)


Though some of its members occasionally show a little captiousness on such matters as to whether an unseconded motion should be recorded; whether the Game-laws should be publicly blamed for increasing the wood pigeon nuisance; or whether foot-and-mouth disease is of foreign origin, it must be admitted that the East Lothian Agricultural Club have many ably conducted and very interesting discussions. As a rule, practical agricultural subjects are best handled, but for many years the Club have very properly been in the habit of going now and again beyond the range of merely practical questions. At last meeting a question was discussed of much interest to every practical farmer. It was "the advantages of a change of farm seeds." Not very long ago some queries were sent to us on this very question, and we have reason to know that a considerable number of farmers have more faith in a frequent but judicious change of seed than they had not very many years ago. The elucidation which the subject received at Haddington two weeks ago, therefore, cannot be regarded as untimely. No doubt the arguments in favour of or against a change of seed applicable to East Lothian may not have a similar bearing on other counties, because local and varying circumstances affect this as well as many other questions; but we know of no district in which the advantages arising from a regular and careful change of seed are not more or less perceptible. The substance of the discussion at Haddington (and there was a wonderful degree of unanimity), was that wheat should be changed pretty frequently, the change, if possible, being from an earlier and finer climate; that barley should be occasionally changed; that oats should be very frequently changed from different soils and climates; that potatoes should be changed every two, or at most three years, the change being from a later and colder climate; and that turnip seed should be got from well-developed transplanted bulbs. Regarding potatoes, the chairman (Mr. Gaukroger) said he "planted a few acres of the finest regents from the west district, which produced a good crop the first year. He took seed from these and planted again, and in his experience the second planting produced both better quality and a heavier crop than the first. When he took seed a third year from these, however, the crop was not of such good quality or so heavy." This view was substantially corroborated by the other speakers. In many parts of this country, especially the northern counties, potato seed is not nearly so systematically changed as this, or as it should. We know of some farms where the same seed has been planted nine or ten years in succession. To be sure, on these potato-growing is not very extensively earned on. But all growers aim at a good crop both as regards quantity and quality. The arguments therefore in favour of a change of seed in large potato-growing districts apply, though in a less degree, to all parts of the country. Every potato-grower, whether to a large or small extent, should remember that he will be the gainer by the introduction of fresh seed every second or third year. Speaking of potatoes, Mr. S. D. Shirreff, Saltcoats, who is a very successful grower, said: "Change of seed at least every second year is absolutely necessary in order to grow a full crop. In this respect potatoes are quite the reverse of wheat, and should invariably be changed from a later and poorer to an earlier and richer district. I made three large experiments in order to test this in 1810. There was £8 per acre difference, according to a dealer's estimate, between the crops grown from the seed from a better soil and district than my own, and the seed I had from a poorer soil and later climate." In reference to turnips, we formerly advised farmers to grow as much as possible of the necessary seed supply on their own farms. We did so, and we repeat the advice, not so much on account of the cost, but because such an arrangement would secure better and more reliable seed than in too many instances the farmers at present obtain. They could, by raising the seed themselves, not only have the bulbs transplanted, but could make a better selection of the roots than we fear is generally done. We do not mean to say that in every case the turnip seed should be produced on the farm. But a good deal more could be advantageously produced under the farmer's own eye. When the seed has to be bought more care should be bestowed in selecting, though it cost a little more money, the finer samples, and in patronising merchants of the best reputation, who can give a guarantee that the seed has been grown from transplanted bulbs, and is pure of its variety. We heartily agree with the following remarks made by Mr. Samuel D. Shirreff at Haddington: "In regard to turnip seed, I do not think there is sufficient care and attention paid by farmers to the selection of the best varieties. It is a false economy to grudge 4d. or even 6d. per lb. for seed which can be guaranteed to be grown from, fully developed or transplanted bulbs." The best change of wheat seed to East Lothian, as a rule, is from the earlier counties in England. The East Lothian wheat, on the other hand, is the most suitable change to the Morayshire farmers, for instance. The changing of barley from various soils and climates has its advantages, though many of these are not so appreciable as in the cases of wheat, oats, and potatoes. It is generally advisable to get seed oats from parts of the country where oats are necessarily one of the principal cereals, or perhaps the most extensive grown. Not that one cannot rely on the purity of many oat samples, produced in districts more extensively devoted to the growth of wheat and barley. It is well known that some of the finest and purest samples of oat seed emanate from the Lothians, but it is also true there are in such districts as these more mixed or impure samples of oats than are to be found in higher and later localities. The chances, therefore, of getting a genuine sample in districts peculiarly adapted to the growth of oats are greater than when other varieties of grain predominate. There are many parts of the country which benefit even more than East Lothian by a change of seed. Increased quantity and improved quality are not the only results of new seed. The crop frequently comes nearly a week earlier to the reaper. This may not be a very material consideration in a county favoured with such a fine climate as East Lothian, but it is a matter of great importance in late districts, where winter sometimes comes on before the fields can be cleared. To the occupants of farms in high districts a frequent introduction of seed from earlier climates has thus much to recommend it, and ought to be more carefully attended to than has hitherto been the case. Mr. Shirreff informed the Haddington meeting that, in 1873, he had one quarter per acre more from barley seed brought from Wiltshire than he reaped from good Chevalier seed grown on his own farm. This is no isolated case, and should not be lost sight of, especially in these days, when it is of more importance than ever that the maximum produce should be gathered from the soil. Not a few farms could be mentioned on which the same grain has been grown successfully for the better part of twenty years. This fact, however, scarcely affects the general question of the advisability of changing seed, because the exceptional farms usually contain various kinds of soil which afford a partial change, for the seed. Besides it will be found that where the same grain has been long and successfully grown on one holding, the tenant thereof generally has a particular taste for the cultivation of fine samples. In such circumstances more attention is bestowed on the preservation of select varieties by changing the soil instead of the seed, by careful harvesting and superior dressing, than can ever be expected on the generality of farms. It is a safe practice to stick by a good thing so long as it sticks to yon, especially if you do not see your way clearly to get a better. With grain, just as with pure-bred live stock, one may work for a time within himself if he has got very good material. That is to say, he may go on growing fine grain of marked uniformity from his own seed, and producing excellent cattle and sheep from animals bred in his herd or flock. But this involves such a variety of soil and so great care, skill, and judgment, that only a few can do it with safety and success.—North British Agriculturist.

Change of Stock/Seed/Conditions