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Current practices and future prospects for organic cereal production: survey and literature review

RESEARCH REVIEW 45 

Current practices and future prospects for organic cereal production: survey and literature review 


by

B R TAYLOR 1, C A WATSON 1, E A STOCKDALE 3, R G McKINLAY 2, D YOUNIE 1 and
D A S CRANSTOUN 2

1 SAC Aberdeen, Ferguson Building, Craibstone Estate, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9YA
2 SAC Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG
3 IACR Rothamsted, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 2JQ

FEBRUARY 2001

Summary

Present practices of organic cereal production, grain quality criteria, advisory information available to farmers and research literature on organic cereals were reviewed in order to provide a basis for future research and development. Increased UK production has not met the demand for organic cereals and prices of organic grain are more than double those of conventional grain. Quality specifications for different markets are similar for organic grain and conventional grain but the standards for protein in bread-making wheat are difficult to achieve.

In a survey of growers the most commonly grown cereals were winter wheat (47% of farms), spring barley (39%) and spring oats (34%) and expected yields ranged from 3.7 tonnes/ha for spring barley to 4.7 tonnes/ha for winter wheat. Weeds were cited as the most common problem in cereal crops (53% of crops), particularly perennial weeds. Lack of fertility was given as a problem in only 16% of cereal crops. Less than a quarter of crops were sown with home-saved seed and 69% of growers used higher seed rates than they would have done in conventional crops. Most farms used grass/clover leys and livestock to maintain soil fertility.

The literature review identifies a number of areas where fundamental information for the production of organic cereals is lacking; these include an understanding of weed competition, an understanding of appropriate management systems for nitrogen fixing green manures and management of nutrients in stockless systems, tactical use of composts and nutrients, interactions between rotations and soil biology, and fundamental processes involved in the ecology of cereal weeds, pests and pathogens.

The final section discusses issues for the future of organic cereal production in the UK and suggests priorities for future organic cereal research, including those relating to stockless, cereal-based rotations, cereal/legume bicropping, commercial and home-saved organic seed production and seed quality, identification of organic cereal ideotypes and mixtures, weeds, pests and diseases, effects of cultivations on soil N mineralisation, soil fungi, sources of nutrients, grain quality, and pest and disease control in stored grain.

HGCA Project Number: 2299 
Price: £6.00

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