Seed World

The Impact of COVID-19 on the EU Seed Sector – Ireland

Interview with Tim O’Donovan, Technical Director, Seedtech – 2 April 2020

European Seed (ES): Tim, what has been the impact of COVID-19 on your members?

Tim O’Donovan (TOD): The majority of arable seed had been processed and was being delivered to farms before the Irish government ‘lock-down’ was announced on March 27. Agriculture and its support industries has been classed as one of the essential services, so seed wholesalers and retailers can continue to process and deliver seed to farmers. However, we must obey workplace social distancing and work from home where possible. Retail premises are only accepting customers when they phone and order in advance and goods are placed in trailers etc to keep the social distance guidelines. Gloves and masks are being worn by retail staff and plant operators and everyone is using staggered breaktimes etc. It is really common sense, guided by science.

ES: What is the forecast for the coming growing season?

TOD: Over 80% of spring crops are now drilled in Ireland as we have benefitted greatly from a record-breaking high-pressure weather system located off our northwest coast since middle March.

I whisper it but some people are now (secretly) hoping for a SMALL amount of rain next week!

The official seed testing station continues to process results but is prioritising samples as they too have to implement new practices in their laboratory. Seed certification regulations will continue to be upheld with a few adjustments to practices – this is all under the control of the Irish Department of Agriculture (DoA) but we are in good hands as they celebrated their 120th birthday on 1st April and have plenty of experience dealing with crisis such as WWI and WWII, Foot & Mouth, BSE and so on.

Seed certification inspections will continue to be conducted by DoA officials as we must uphold seed standards and ensure the food chain can begin with quality seed.

ES: Which are the main challenges?

TOD: Aside from the obvious staff welfare concerns we have such as if one of our staff or their families becomes sick, the social aspect of work is missing under the new work practices, but this is a small price to pay to reduce the virus impact.

In terms of business, we are lucky that agriculture is an essential service and the general public are happy that farmers are producing food to stock the supermarket shelves. The Irish seed trade will endeavour to supply farmers during the pandemic.

ES: What measures has the seed sector implemented?

TOD: Some of the measures are remote working where possible and lots of online meetings testing our broadband and smartphone capabilities. Field agronomy no longer means meeting the farmer, the agronomist sends the recommendation via text or email and records are held for future reference. Customers now ring in advance and their order is delivered or placed by a retail staff member in a trailer while the farmer waits outside the premises.

ES: And how is your own company helping?

TOD: Our own company has increased its online agronomy presence to help growers through these key weeks for input decisions with instructional videos and guides being distributed through text, social media, email, etc. Here is an example of this:

This has been positively received by farmers and agronomists alike and it is also a welcome ‘break’ from Covid-19 news.

Editor’s Note: See also our recent article on the seed industry in Ireland: