Oilseed rape harvest has commenced across England following a testing season for growers.
Leicestershire farmer, Joe Stanley says he will halve his oilseed rape area next year, following the worst rape yields on record.
Having lost around 15 hectares of the 50ha crop to flea and pollen beetle damage, the remainder of the crop is looking variable, with overall yields expected to average 2t/ha.
Mr Stanley says: “We grow High Erucic Acid Rape (HEAR), so we expect it not to yield as high as other varieties, at around 3.5t/ha.
“We have cut 10ha of our best crop which yielded just under 3t/ha, so I’d imagine average yield will struggle to break 2t/ha. We’re looking at a 50 per cent yield drop on what we’d normally hope for.”
Harvest took off two weeks ahead of normal this year, with what Mr Stanley puts down to a much thinner crop.
Following a testing season for oilseed rape growers, Mr Stanley plans to replace half of his 2019/20 OSR area with beans to ‘reduce exposure to a catastrophic loss’.
He says: “We have grown a three-crop rotation of wheat, barley, rape for quite a few years, but for the first time in 20 years, we’re going to grow beans to take up half the area that normally goes into rape and we will be dropping the crop altogether if we have another bad year.
“Historically HEAR has been our best performing crop from a financial point of view. It used to be a cheap break crop, but now you spend a lot of money before you realise the crop has failed. We’ve been lucky to get 2t/ha compared to a lot of growers. Some have lost 100 per cent.”
Last autumn was the first time the farm had experienced problems with flea beetle, and Mr Stanley expects the problem to continue.
He says: “What with climate change causing dry summers and mild winters not killing off the pest, the consequences we were warned of when they banned neonicotinoid seed dressings are coming to head. Looking at current trends, in five years there will be a huge reduction in the area of OSR.”
In Dorset, yields are looking more optimistic. OSR harvest began on July 8 at Emma Foot’s farm, and despite having to spray for flea beetle three times, crops were not largely affected by the pest, averaging 4.5t/ha with September drilled Elgar.
Ms Foot says: “Some of the seeds look quite small and we could have done with more rain in June. I’m glad we’ve had 14mm now to really ripen up the other crops.”
Winter barley on the farm yielded well, with a good bushel weight.
“We weren’t going to grow winter barley next year, but I think we will now after this year’s crop,” adds Ms Foot.