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Growers are being advised to think carefully about getting the best from oilseed rape as more farmers return to the crop this summer. High prices fuel renewed interest in oilseed rape

David Stead.

  • Drill crop early into good conditions
  • Adequate moisture at an even depth
  • Optimise nutrition and control pests

Growers are being advised to think carefully about getting the best from oilseed rape as more farmers return to the crop this summer.

High oilseed rape prices over recent months have fuelled expectations that more rape will go into the ground this autumn. But agronomy firm Hutchinsons says growers should consider all options before a final decision.

Cabbage stem flea beetle remains the greatest concern in many areas. But seedbed moisture, slugs and pigeons remain constant threats to establishing crops successfully and building yield potential.

Hutchinsons agronomist David Stead believes the key behind a successful crop is drilling rape early into good conditions to establish strong, healthy, deep-rooted plants with greater resilience.

Earlier is better

“Generally, the earlier oilseed rape is sown, the better it performs,” he says.

“Although flea beetle pressure is quite seasonal in this region, it’s clear that late sowing increases the risk of crop failure, and we’re almost at a point where the 15-20 August is the cut-off for drilling.”

Drilling seed in the first week of September and hoping for the best simply doesn’t work, says Mr Stead. But he acknowledges that a decent seedbed earlier in the summer can be challenging given the vagaries of the British weather.

“Sowing into seedbeds with adequate moisture, at an even depth with good seed-to-soil contact is vital for strong, consistent establishment, which can make subsequent pest pressure more tolerable.”

Where winter wheat is cleared by the 15 August, growers should think longer-term about where oilseed rape fits within the rotation. For some growers, winter barley or an early-maturing wheat before rape could allow a more timely entry.

Optimising nutrition in the seedbed and again in early spring will help exploit the natural vigour of conventional and hybrid varieties, says Mr Stead. It is also important to control other pests – including slugs and pigeons – through autumn and winter.

“If crops are living with flea beetle larvae inside the stems, we cannot afford to have anything else that sets them back,” says Mr Stead. A slug infestation or pigeons could finish off a young crop already suffering from flea beatle damage, he suggests.

Before growing any crop, Hutchinsons technical support manager Neil Watson says it is important to identify the yield required to break even – and then ask whether this can be practicably achieved.

At a payment of £522/ha, the two-year legume mix (AB15) under Countryside Stewardship effectively sets a floor for potential returns – and means a rape yield of at least 2.3t/ha is needed to make the crop a better financial option, says Mr Watson.

Pools protect against market fluctuations

High prices in recent months have made oilseed rape an attractive prospect – but the market remains volatile.

Holding out for a peak price before selling can work, says United Oilseeds – but growers must continuously pay close attention to market trends and movements to sell at the optimum moment.

Optimism can disappear quickly when the market is depressed – replaced by anxiety and apprehension, says the farmer-owned break-crop specialist. It is too easy to forget falling prices and adopt a bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach.

With oilseed rape, frequent and dramatic price fluctuations are norm. Being caught out by the market is frustrating at best, but there is a safer haven available to farmers that helps protect against market squalls and storms.

Pool marketing aims to deliver members with prices for their crop that beat the market’s average price.

While this may not guarantee the peak price, United Oilseeds says its pools have delivered a higher than average market price over the last 14 years.

Specialists in oilseed rape marketing, the farmer-owned co-operative is a recognised market influencer,  managing the largest rapeseed pools in the UK. It benchmarks against fixed price sellers, competitors and daily market prices.

Interim payments are made to growers 28 days after movement or store allocation. Haulage storage cleaning and drying charges are all deducted at final settlement thereby providing a cash flow advantage to members.