Days are numbered for Widgeon variety

THE single most popular English wheat thatching straw for the past 30 years, Maris Widgeon is set to go the same way as Maris Huntsman following the decision by exclusive certified seed producer, J. Pickard and Co. of Umberleigh in Devon to make 2008/9 its last season of production.

“At little more than 20 acres worth a year, our Widgeon certified seed sales have declined to less than half the

level they need to be to make it worthwhile continuing to multiply the variety,” said Pickard’s managing director Graham Short. “Especially so because its low seed yield makes it at least twice as costly to maintain as most modern wheats.

“We’re committed to putting in a reasonable acreage, in the coming season, but unless demand picks-up substantially this will be the last crop we produce. At current usage levels it would give growers two years of continued access to certified seed.

“After that, it will be down to farm saved seed producers to maintain the variety and on past experience, I’d give it three to four years before purity declines to an unacceptable degree.

Reluctance

“After the outcry when we reluctantly ceased to grow Maris Huntsman four years ago for the same reason, we’re giving the thatchers and specialist organic millers who value the variety ample warning with Widgeon.

“Unless enough growers commit themselves to buying some C2 seed each year rather than just farm-saving I’m afraid we can no longer afford to continue producing it.”

Working with breeder RAGT Seeds, Mr Short stresses his business has maintained what is almost certainly the last true long-strawed wheat as little more than a public service for the past three or four years; a situation which simly cannot be sustained under today’s economic pressures.

“Everyone tells us how much they value Widgeon as an English straw for English thatching,” added Mr Short.

“Unless they’re prepared to back this with commercial action before it’s too late, they’ll just have to make do with farm-saved mixtures, triticale or imported reed.

“After all the years we’ve been supplying the variety, we’ll be sad to see it go. But, like so many farmers, our business can’t afford to continue producing something that doesn’t pay.

“If things don’t change markedly in the next 12 months, no one should be in any doubt it will be the end of the road for Widgeon as a true variety.”

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