AB Annand Seed Services Ltd

June 2007
There are two classes of vegetable seed production; hybrid and open-pollinated.

Potential returns from growing hybrid vegetable seed crops are high at $20-$30/kg but so are the risks, as the 100% seed purity and 90% germination required is achieved only with close attention to detail. The payment for open-pollinated crops ranges from $1.30-$15/kg. Yield varies from 100kg/ha to 3500kg/ha, depending on germplasm selection and variety.

There are next to no markets for under-grade seed and if crops are lost to natural events, no compensation is paid.

In all cases, to get good yields and thus returns, close attention has to be paid to detail from preparing ground through to drying seed. Broad-scale cropping farmers used to sitting in a tractor seat sometimes find that the perfectionist approach required doesnt suit them. A meticulously tidy farm is often a pointer to someone with the right stuff for seedgrowing.


South Canterburys climate with its generally reliable spring rains and dry conditions in late summer/early autumn is well suited to vegetable seed crops and a number of seed firms operate here.

AB Annand Seed Services Limited provides contract production of vegetable seed varieties and hybrids in Canterbury Plains and Oregon, USA for clients Asia, Europe and North America. By growing new vegetable seed varieties in the northern hemisphere then sending seed to the southern hemisphere to be grown and harvested in the same year, the company is able to speed up the process of bulking up seed lines for commercial release.

The companys South Canterbury seed crop manager Howard Bailey was a local cropping farmer who grew especially cabbage seed with some success, before selling up for dairying. He enjoys strong local knowledge of who will make the best growers, plus personal experience of the vegetable seed industry from a growers perspective.

Broccoli, cabbage, chrysanthemum (used in pyrethrum-type insecticide products and with the leaves are eaten), kale, coriander, Chinese mustard, pea, radish, spinach, red beet, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower and kohlrabi are among the vegetable seed crops being grown for AB Annand this year.

Wairangi Farms

Gary and Charlotte Talbot earn 80-85% of their income from growing a variety of grain and seed crops including grass, forage and vegetable seeds. They say that in a normal season, the profitability of growing vegetable seeds is acceptable, especially for high risk crops like carrots which pay very well if you get a good yield of quality seed.

This year they have 80-90 hectares of radishes in the ground for two seed companies and 35 hectares of coriander. Twenty five hectares of potentially lucrative carrots were lost to frost.

They also run 1000 breeding ewes and finish their own and bought in lambs on the just under 1000 hectare dryland property.

Seeds for success

The climate of both the Canterbury Plains and Oregons Willamette Valley suit the growing of seed, enjoying reliable spring rainfall for reliable germination and hot and dry conditions in the autumn when much of the seed is harvested.

Most vegetable seed crops such as brassicas are suited to heavier soils while others like carrots do best on light, stony silt loans. South Canterbury has a wide range of suitable soil types.

Each winter AB Annand invites potential growers to a meeting, follows through by finding out what seed and ground is available then matches up the two.

The areas of vegetable seed crops contracted are necessarily small because of the meticulous management required. Most have 8-10 hectares in the ground, with the biggest areas this year being around 20 hectares of cabbage and 24 hectares of radish.

Considerable planning is required for the Talbots to keep the required one kilometre of isolation between like crops grown on their own and neighbours farms. They must also be very careful about paddock history and structure rotations according to whats been grown on ground previously.

Timeliness is the main secret to success with vegetable seed crops, says Gary. It is essential to ensure all operations are done at the best possible time, although weather sometimes meant this wasnt possible. If it was unusually wet or dry leading up to planting time, for example, unsuitable soil conditions could delay planting.

Employing contractors to jobs like spraying is often more efficient than doing the job yourself, says Gary. Where he once struggled to protect all his crops against fungal infection in wet weather, now a contractor comes in with several spray units and gets the job done in next to no time.


The first step in growing a high quality seed crop is a well prepared seed bed, not always super-fine. Broad spectrum fertiliser in Garys case 250kg of Cropmaster 15 is incorporated into the soil on the last cultivator pass along with pre-emergent herbicide.

Being on heavy soils with good moisture retaining ability, the Talbots do not have irrigation although this improves the odds of success for some growers who water the ground pre-planting then when needed through the season.

Gary is adamant that its well worth the cost employing a contractor with a precision drill which plants seeds in straight lines. However, cost means many opt for sowing the seed with their own direct drill which scatters seed across the paddock.

A precision drill places seed at precise spacing, to give very plant with optimal opportunities of extracting nutrient and moisture.

You get very uniform emergence, plant size and rate of growth, says Gary. It is easy to identify carry-over plants from the previous crop as they pop up between the rows. If there is unwanted seed in the line, alien seedlings show up like a sore thumb in the straight row. Finding then removing off-type plants is far harder when seed is scattered.

Another advantage is seed saved, for example a farmer using his own drill will sow about 5kg of seed/ha whereas with precision drilling only 2kg/hectare is required; a significant saving when seed can cost $20/kg. With the cost of a contractor around $100/hectare, you might save $60/hectare by doing the job yourself with a direct drill but yields may be significantly less.

Keeping track

AB Annand field representatives visit growers at least every couple of weeks, to advise on crop management to achieve seed yields and quality; a service Gary greatly appreciates saying it saves him considerable time and trouble.

Generally, intensive management starts at bolting when an eye needs to be kept out for fungal infection and insects. Howard and Gary take a preventative approach, with herbicides sprayed once or twice across the crop and fungicides when the seedheads come out.

A monthly report on the crop with photographs is sent back to the client in Asia, so they can monitor progress and get some idea of likely yields. Occasionally, this has given them prior warning that the crop has failed or is poor, providing time to arrange to send seed to the northern hemisphere thus avoiding a full years delay in building the line.

This year, for example a crop has failed to bolt due to being planted too late missing which meant out on the necessary winter vernalisation.

Its much better that the client know that now, than six months down the track, says Howard.


Vegetable crops are insect pollinated, mostly by bees, with the exception of carrots. Gary places beehives judiciously around the farm to cover more than one crop. They are even put in carrot paddocks as bees attract other insects.

Apiarists have only recently started charging to place hives in crops, at up to $150 each for a month.

Cool conditions this year means bees have not been fully effective, and Garys borage crops have not had a good seed set this year as a result of poor pollination.

Harvesting and drying

In hybrid production, both male and female plants are sown or even transplanted, in the case of cabbages and cauliflower. After flowering, males are removed with only the seed-bearing female plants harvested.

Plants are kept in their vegetative stage then when they bolt, urea is applied to support the energy required for the rapid flush of growth during bolting and flowering.

A desiccant spray is used to hasten ripening. AB Annand advises on which crops need windrowing and when. Most are harvested 10 to 14 days later by the grower with their own combine harvester.

Generally setting up the harvester is straightforward, although radish seed is an exception being extremely difficult to thrash. The seed is encased in a very spongy pod which can be difficult to crack open, says Gary. A radish kit is attached to the front of the combine so when the cutter bar sweeps the crop into its throat it passes through two rollers which squash and crack the pod. Inside the combine, a very close setting keeps the crop rolling around in the drum mechanism for as long as possible before it exits to the sieves.

Last year Gary harvested many different radish varieties and all were different to harvest. A huge amount of pod was retained in one variety, which had to be sent to a seed processor for further treatment at considerable cost.

Coriander is much more straightforward, although you can make a real hash of it if you dont have the right combine settings, says Gary. It can be windrowed although Gary opts to harvest it standing. If the seed is rubbed too hard, it can split in half.

Garys feeling pretty confident about his coriander which has finished flowering with good pod set and is as high as his chest. A later-sown trial block was accidentally sprayed with Roundup by a contractor instead of the paddock next door, who then re-seeded it at his own expense.

Seed is either dried in the growers own drier or sent to cleaning companies where moisture content is dropped from around 10-12% to 7%.

Gary has two in-bin floored dryers which while expensive to buy, save a serious amount of money plus ensure a high quality job. Each has sufficient capacity to dry 120-130 tonnes of wheat.

Air being forced through the crop rather than heat dries the crop and temperature can be controlled to ensure seeds germination potential is not compromised.

Radish is not difficult to dry but coriander is a devil because it is hygroscopic. It can take two to three days to dry it down to the required 2-3%.


Finding ground

The growth of dairying in South Canterbury has made it increasingly hard to find ground for seed crops, says Howard. A new non-Fonterra dairy factory will open at Studholme on State Highway One in what was a pea processing factory this coming season, further increasing the pressure on arable land.

What makes seedgrowing even more difficult as the area of land available shrinks, is the requirement for 1000 metres (1km) between lines of like-type crops.

All seed merchant companies enter the location of intended crops on a SCID (Seed Crop Isolation Distance) map each season, so they can plan plantings to ensure there is no risk of cross-pollination.

If we have a cabbage crop too close to one of South Pacific Seeds, for example, there is a protocol on who has the right to plant.


As with any farming enterprise, climate is the major challenge. This may be the last year the Talbots grow carrots which can be quite a profitable crop, after 25 hectares were heaved out of the ground during a spell of unusually cold frosts. It was too late to re-sow.

In the merchant/farmer relationship, the farmer accepts the agronomic risk of producing a crop and the merchant takes the commercial risk of international exchange rate movement, customer payment and shipping.

Where possible, if the decision to terminate a crop is made as soon as possible to give all parties time to move to plan B.

Wairangi Farms has come through a difficult autumn and winter with extremely cold temperatures but the late but wet spring which followed resulted in excellent growth. Some astronomical yields will be possible but potentially under difficult conditions due to late ripening, says Gary.

Howards worried that some coriander crops are extremely late to bolt this season due to the cool summer and may not set seed.


This year summer rainfall has been unusually high for South Canterbury, right up until harvest. Growers have been battling against fungal diseases scleritinia and alternaria which will upset germination.

AB Annand growers who expected their crop might require two to four fungicide applications are finding themselves applying five or six, all at a cost. Garys vegetable seed crops havent had major disease problems, with preventative fungicide applications keeping ahead of infection.

Even in a low risk season Id apply fungicide as a matter of course.

It is important to have a feel for the conditions when fungal infection risk is high and also to keep a keep a sharp eye out for diseased plants, says Howard.

An advantage of growing vegetable seed versus edible crops is that since they are not for human consumption, there are no withholding periods on chemicals applied.


An insect pest which has shown up in the last few years is the diamond-backed month, a leaf-eater which compromises plant growth. Other pest threats are the leaf miner and common aphids.

We control these pests with the most economic, most effective chemicals, says Howard. All pesticides used must be bee-friendly due to the importance of bees in pollinating crops. They should be applied late at night after bees have moved off the crop, leaving maximum time before they return as heat builds up the following day.

The Talbots generally apply a couple of insecticide sprays, one when the seedheads are coming in.