Scientists have teamed up with farmers and industry to explore the possibility of growing organic oilseed rape in Scotland for the first time. Jo Learmonth reports.
Large plots of organic oilseed rape (canola) have been planted on five farms across the north east of Scotland; one in Moray, three in Aberdeenshire and one in Angus.
With guidance from agronomist Andy Cheetham of Ceres Agri Services, these on-farm trials will give the opportunity to compare varieties and several aspects of agronomy for the crop including nutrition, pest, disease and weed management and intercropping, in the season ahead.
The first of three on-farm demonstrations was held at Auchmacleddie, Strichen Fraserbugh on January 23 courtesy of Chris Gospel who is investigating oilseed rape varieties in his organic system.
Mr Gospel said: “There is no organic oilseed rape seed, so you can use non-organic on a derogation. We have five different varieties in the ground, all hybrids: LG Aurelia, LG Artemis LG Ambassador and a mix of DSV Dazzler and DSV Darling.”
The trial field had been in grass for over six years. Muck was applied at 35 tonnes/hectare and the field was limed, then disced ahead of ploughing. Plots were drilled on August 12 with a 6m Lemken drill.
Mr Cheetham said: “There was good autumn vigour in all varieties and all the plots have established well, with an average of 55 plants/sq.m. We have carried out detailed soil and tissue analysis across all the plots to inform our inputs.
“The frost has killed out the nettles and the crop will smother out the other weeds. Nothing has eaten any plants so far, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of snow now to deter pigeons as they can do a lot of damage.”
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is leading this Scottish Organic Canola (SCOCAN) project with a £30,000 grant from the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund.
Facilitator Dr Robin Walker, SRUC, said: “The initiative was originated by Norvite with a view to expanding the activities at its Norvite Expeller Oilseeds crushing plant facility in Aberdeenshire, which, last year got human food approval so now has the ability to supply oil into organic food markets.”
The SCOCAN project follows a fact finding mission to Sweden in March last year. Dr Walker added: “Sweden and Scotland are at a very similar latitude and the soils are not hugely dissimilar. There 10,000ha - approximately 10 per cent - of the total oilseed rape area is organic.”
Edward Smith, managing director at Norvite and chair of the Scottish Organic Producers Association said: “Introducing this crop to Scotland, even at this scale is innovative. As an encouragement to grow the seed we gave the growers involved in the project a contract price that reflects the value that we know we could achieve in the animal feed market.
"Now that we have some crops in the ground and we know that we are going to have some seed this harvest we are going to start to develop some relationships with organic wholesalers.”