Winter oilseed rape drilling has commenced across the country, but following a challenging season for the crop, the 2020 harvest area is expected to fall.
The general consensus in the market is that planted area will be around 10-15 per cent down on last year, at around 550,000ha in the best-case scenario, says Sarah Middleton, campaign manager for oilseed rape at BASF.
However, despite the difficult year, for many yields at harvest were not as low as expected considering the amount of flea beetle damage seen, she adds.
“It’s not to say everybody had a positive experience. Our own trials looked pretty horrific but when the combines went through it still yielded well. It goes to show the resilience of OSR as a crop. On the whole it was better than expected.”
With some growers getting oilseed rape crops in early while soils were moist, the catchy weather conditions in the North during harvest has left many unable to start drilling, particularly in the Borders and into Scotland.
Ms Middleton says: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the area is back a bit in the North because of this.
“We support the view that going later will escape flea beetle pressure and using a vigorous hybrid in that situation is the best thing to do, but many growers aren’t prepared to take that risk.
“The fact that we had some moisture relatively early on meant some growers felt inclined to go early. Considering we haven’t got any significant moisture forecast for the next week or so, maybe that was the right decision.”
Beckii Gibbs, United Oilseeds seeds manager says recent drilling conditions may mean that the final OSR area could prove pleasantly surprising.
She says: “Most of the UK has seen some rainfall over the past few weeks which will help create a moist seedbed, enabling plants to grow away from pests. Broadly speaking, seedbed conditions are excellent and much better than in 2018 when they were extremely dry.”
Ms Gibbs says there has been a huge demand for Aurelia, which is a trait-loaded hybrid with TuVY resistance and also for Acacia, a conventional variety.
“There is also a lot of interest in HOLL, from new and existing growers, because of the guaranteed minimum premiums of £25.00/tonne that are available on buyback contracts.”
In Essex, Michael Scantlebury has finished drilling 22ha of Barbados conventional OSR and 26ha of Red Start forage OSR for seed, maintaining the same area as last year despite seeing a slight fall in yields.
He says: “Last year’s forage crop was probably at the lower end of our expectations. We only expect 2.2-2.5t/ha and we were at the 2t/ha mark, while Barbados yielded 3.65t/ha. Flea beetle wasn’t especially a problem for us and no crop received an insecticide all season.”
The no-till crop, which was companion cropped with buckwheat and clover, went in in good conditions and has mostly emerged within a week.
Mr Scantlebury adds: “We had more moisture at the time of drilling this year and things have moved on. However, slug pressure seems much higher this year, which is inevitable with there being more moisture, and we’ve already done one application of ferric phosphate slug pellets.”
However, on Peter Gilbert’s farm in Lincolnshire, conditions have been too dry to commence drilling.
He says: “We had a wet start to harvest like everyone else but the last 10 days have been very dry and the storms that went through Lincolnshire missed us.
“We’ve still got beans to cut and need to decide whether to cut the beans or drill the rape. The beans are the favourite because the rape wouldn’t grow anyway. If we’re going to grow it, we’ll have to drill it and then hope for moisture.”
Mr Gilbert plans to maintain the same area of oilseeds, growing Campus and Butterfly, which he says performed well last year, despite some flea beetle pressure.
He says: “We did about 4.1t/ha - we were lucky. We drilled 4kg/ha and ended up with the flea beetle eating three quarters of it, so we had a perfect plant. We drilled early so we had a good, big plant which went into winter a good size. There was a lot close by that did really badly.”
Meanwhile, the area of winter linseed this season looks set to rise dramatically, as more growers look to alternative break crops says Andrew Probert, managing director of Premium Crops.
“If you look at what we have as far as autumn break crops there are really only three – wOSR, winter beans and winter linseed. The area of winter rape is going to decline and most farmers have enough beans on their farms.”
The risk of losing OSR crop to flea beetle has meant that 1-2 per cent of last year’s oilseed rape area will be converted into winter linseed, Mr Probert adds.