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Landrace varieties - Scots Timothy

 

Scot’s Timothy

Close to Losing a Landrace Variety

A & R Muirhead. Email:alan@grassseed.co.uk Tel:01259 760400

 

 

Scot’s Timothy

Timothy Hay is the most historic hay varieties around but yet the production of the Scot’s Timothy variety is rapidly decreasing close to the point of extinction.  Scot’s Timothy is a land race variety that needs promotion to prevent the loss of this sub-species all together.  It is also important to increase its production in order to encourage the biodiversity of the crops used by the agricultural community.  It has many characteristics which should be making it the 1st choice of hay seed such as:

  • Excellent palatability - all herbivores prefer to eat Timothy hay
  • Scot’s is the most winter hardy species – bred in Scotland for Scottish climate
  • Farmer friendly – 1 crop of hay a yr with very little input required
  • Environmentally friendly – extremely long lasting, reduces soil disturbance
  • Brilliant performance in clay soils
  • Vital resource in agrobiodiversity and future food security.

There are 2 main reasons why the production of Scot’s Timothy seed in the UK has dramatically declined over the past 25yrs, from around 1989, the large seed merchant companies have only been promoting their own royalties lead varieties.  As Scot’s Timothy is owned by a small growers association the large seed merchants only get a profit margin from this variety where as their own varieties they can demand high profit margins and royalties.  Also, in 2005 the government dropped all subsides to support farmers to grow Scot’s Timothy thanks to the introduction of the single farm payment instead of crop subsidies. 

Ever since, this change in legislation has been slowly crippling small holding farmers and has been the last straw in the production of Scot’s Timothy. See figure1. 

Figure 1. Production of Scot’s Timothy Seed 1977-2014

The government seems to have turned its back on farmers and encouraged the large seed merchant companies to become like supermarkets.  No longer can a farmer request what he wants to sow from merchants, they dictate what is available to their customers which has led to the pushing out of the non-royalties varieties or varieties that are long lasting in the soil (do not require annual uplift and re-sow).                                 

Landrace Variety

Most importantly Scot’s Timothy is one of Scotland’s few landrace varieties; this means it is a rare variety native to this country.  This is a crop species that we need to encourage the production of in order to stop the erosion of agrobiodiversity in plants.  Scot’s Timothy is an important landrace variety as a biodiversity resource and future food security.  The Scottish Government has a responsibility in supporting farmers to grow this crop in order to secure the full range of Scotland’s plant genetic resources.  “This erosion of an agrobiodiversity resource that may be critical for future food security has been recognised in a number of international legal instruments, including the convention on Biological Diversity and the International treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.  As a signatory to these treaties, the UK has an obligation to take steps to secure the full range of its plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including the diversity of UK landraces.” – “Landrace conservation strategy for the United Kingdom”, Prof. N. Maxted, University of Birmingham, 2011.

 

SASA have initiated SLPS (Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme) but there are flaws in their inventory and protocols.  This scheme is supposed to provide ex-situ back up of seed that can be made available to the grower in the event of crop failure or loss of stock seed.  At this present time SASA are unsure of the exact amount of Scot’s Timothy in storage for such an event.  They have approximated that there is roughly 10kg of Scot’s Timothy seed in there holding freezer.  This would just cover 1 acre with no reserve so if the harvest of that 1 acre failed then the variety would be lost forever. 

History

The Carse of Stirling and Scot’s Timothy’s histories are entwined.  Timothy hay has been commercially grown on the Carse of Stirling since the late 1800’s, when the farmers of the Carse of Stirling collected and cultivated the species and produced the Scots Timothy seed variety. This timothy variety is and always has been an A class grass variety in the Grass trials in Scotland (SAC).  Also, it is Scottish Landrace variety.

 

Our family, the Muirheads, have been involved with this seed from the very start and are one of the few major growers of the variety left. Mr Alan Muirhead won the World Championship in Toronto in the small seed section. The only grass seeds world champion to come from the United Kingdom.

 

Historically, this variety has been extensively used in the production of grazing and in particular for the production of very high quality hay which is preferred feeding for horses, sheep, cattle and all other herbivore animals, such as Elephants, Rabbits and Rhino.  Even Bruce the young Rhino at Blair Drummond Safari Park prefers Scot’s Timothy to any other hay.

Main Characteristics

Scot’s Timothy's most important features are its palatability, extreme winter hardiness and early spring growth. It is adapted to a wide range of soils but does best under cool, moist conditions particularly on wet, peaty, clay and heavy textured soils. Well-drained clays or clay loam soils are ideal, but because the crop is fairly tolerant to flooding it also does well on poorly drained areas.  This makes it an excellent choice of crop for the Scottish climate. Once established Scots Timothy is an easy crop to grow; the main requirements for production of a good seed crop are plenty of moisture throughout the growing season and high fertility.  Its fertilizer requirements are low compared to other crops and so it makes this variety of hay farmer friendly.  As Scot’s Timothy is a perennial plant it can provided high yields while staying in the soil for a number of years, 15-20yrs, this makes it easier on the farmer and great for the environment.  Also because of low soil disturbance it means that Scot’s Timothy is great carbon storage

Environment

This Perennial plant has no need to be ploughed and re sown as with all other crop types, this benefits both the soil structure and the environment and provides an excellent habitat for wildlife.   As their habitats are not being destroyed year in year out by re-sowing, The Carse of Stirling Timothy Hay fields support all sorts of wildlife, Pink Foot geese, Graylag goose, Whooper Swans, Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Short eared Owls, Curlews, Lapwings, Brown Hare, Partridge, Corncrakes, wide variety of small mammals and their food sources to name just a few of the wildlife that make timothy hay fields their home.  As Timothy grows in a clump this allows the ground nesting birds an excellent environment for the chicks to survive in unlike virtually all other grass varieties.  Timothy hay uses no pesticides to grow and will still produce a quality crop year in year out, unlike other cereals or crops.

SUMMARY

To summarise, Scot’s Timothy is an important grass variety in respects to biodiversity and future food security because it is a landrace variety. It is beneficial to wildlife and the environment because of the low soil disturbance and low requirements of fertilizer and pesticide. It is one of the most farmer friendly crops due to high yields maintained year in year out for over a decade without high maintenance.  Even though there are so many reasons for this crop to be a high production crop it is close to being wiped out completely, due to large seed merchants pushing out the small growers and lack of financial support from the government even though EU legislation states that promotion of landrace varieties is of highest importance for plant biodiversity.