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Oilseed rape plantings have fallen to their lowest for almost 35 years, reveals the latest Early Bird sowing survey by the Agriculture and Horticulture... Wheat area rebounds as oilseed rape continues to decline

Oilseed rape plantings have fallen to their lowest for almost 35 years, reveals the latest Early Bird sowing survey by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

At 318,000ha, the UK oilseed rape area is at its lowest since 1986 – a decline accelerated by tough weather and crop losses last year, as growers show caution about its economic viability and pest prevalence.

The survey also confirms a resurgence in winter wheat plantings – helped by better autumn conditions. The estimated wheat area stands at 1.815m hectares, up 28.3% on last year but in line with the five-year average of 1.802m hectares (2015-19).

Better drilling

AHDB analyst Anthony Speight said there had been a significant increase in the overall winter cereal area. “Drilling has reportedly gone significantly better than last year, when many growers struggled to get crops in the ground due to wet conditions.

“The exception is oilseed rape which continues to decrease, with many growers challenged by the threat of cabbage stem flea beetle, but this has led to some more niche crops gaining ground.”

Winter barley has also seen an increase in intended area after poor weather in late 2019 led to a widespread switch to spring cropping. This season, an estimated 394,000 ha is intended for winter barley, up 24% year on year.

Spring barley

Equally, the area intended for spring barley has fallen by 30% on last year to 767,000ha. Despite the decline, this area still remains slightly above the five-year average of 711,000ha.

The drop in rape has resulted in a growth in other break crops, with oats continuing to increase by 3.6%. Other cereals, such as rye, triticale and mixed grains, are seen to be increasing by 40.8% and pulses by 7%.

The AHDB Early Bird Survey is carried out each autumn. It is undertaken by the Andersons Centre, with the help of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) and other agronomists.

Cropping intentions

This year’s survey covers 615,000ha. It represents some 13% of the UK area for the crops surveyed. Data was collected for provisional results up until 25 November 2020 and will be finalised later.

The survey is used to estimate the cropping intentions of UK farmers. A more detailed regional update is due to be calculated following Defra’s release of its final UK production estimates in December.

In previous years, the survey has proved to be an accurate forecast of actual harvested areas. However, the final harvested area and yields depend on weather conditions throughout the season.