Martin Meets Need for Weed Seeds; . . . and Aussies Farm the Rain

Article excerpt

WHILE other growers work to eliminate weed species from their crops, Martin Parham maximises the purity and productivity of grass and broadleaf weed stands on his holding near Twyford, west of London.

With his wife, Vera, he established Herbiseed 20 years ago. Today, the company supplies 700 species of weeds to 600 customers, most chemical companies and weed researchers. Herbiseed also produces seed mixtures for wildflower establishment and herb-rich meadows for livestock.

Scientists working with weed seeds are obliged under the code of good laboratory practice to describe weed origin, resistance status, etc. Purchasing weed seeds from Herbiseed is the ideal solution because, unlike weed seeds collected from grain stores, Herbiseed's seeds are purpose-grown from known populations.

Orders for quantities ranging from as little as 25 grammes to 50 kilos arrive from around the world. About half the weed seeds are grown in the United Kingdom, the remainder are produced in the former Yugoslavia, and exotic species are gathered for Herbiseed by freelance collectors in Australia and Africa.

Total seed sales amount to a little over two tonnes. That seems modest until you consider that blackgrass seed sells at pounds 100/kg, wild oats pounds 30/kg. Of the broadleaf seeds, poppy is a snip at pounds 40/kg. Gross output from the 20-acre holding now exceeds that of a 500-acre combinable crops unit.

"No one is offering advice on weed production and we have had to build our expertise over the years," says Martin Parham, a weed biologist by profession. The difficulty of growing and harvesting a weed is reflected in its price.

The most expensive seed is groundsel at pounds 700/kg. "The weed is easy to grow vegetatively," says Martin Parham.

"But it only sheds seed at a precise humidity which occurs at different times each day depending on the amount of sunshine. …