Heritage wheat and other plant varieties - EC regulations relaxed

In centuries past colourful displays of cornfield annuals like poppy and cornflower adorned many wheat and barley fields. It is this historical collection of annual wild flowers gardeners and landscapers seek to re-create when they sow seed mixtures like Emorsgate's EC1 and EC2. These annuals do produce excellent results by themselves. Occasionally we have been asked about adding heritage varieties of wheat or barley to complete the look for interest or educational demonstration.


For decades it has been illegal to offer for sale seed of old wheat and other crop and vegetable varieties. Even the free exchange of seeds of obsolete garden varieties was officially banned. Worldwide this type of restrictive legislation has lead to a loss of crop genetic diversity and has restricted the choice and freedom of growers to sow varieties that suit them.

From 30th June 2009 legislation amendments will be put in place in England and Wales that make provisions to allow limited marketing of seed of old varieties and landraces "threatened by genetic erosion". This is good news - however the amendments fall short of the objective as they still contain significant amounts of unnecessary red tape. We feel that regulatory effort could be better focused on continuing to ensure that plant breeders are rewarded for their productive currently listed varieties and for monitoring GM crops. The in-situ preservation of crop genetic diversity would be more effectively promoted by de-regulation of obsolete and de-listed varieties.

As it happens for wheat and other cereals (but unfortunately not other crops) "The [cereal seed] regulations apply to seed ..... Intended to be used for agriculture or horticulture production. They do not apply to seed intended to be used to produce ornamental plants".

This means that supplying seed of a heritage wheat variety to sow with cornfield annuals for ornamental display has always been possible within the law.

Emorsgate have been trialling a number of old varieties like ‘squareheads master' and ‘April bearded' wheat as companions to cornfield annual wildflowers. The experiment has been interesting, but visually and practically has highlighted some drawbacks and limitations. So, unless you especially wanted to grow wheat, our current advice would be to continue to sow annuals without corn in most situations.


Posted on 01 July 2009,
Category: News