More growers will be considering linseed as a break crop this winter, according to research carried out by Arable Farming’s sister publication Farmers Guardian.
The survey of more than 230 arable farmers across Britain revealed significant changes in the way growers will approach their rotation this coming winter and spring.
The research covered all regions of England as well as Scotland and Wales.
Most of those surveyed (67%) had been farming for more than 20 years and 44% of farms were between 100 and 299 hectares.
Nigel Padbury is seeds and marketing manager for Premium Crops, which commissioned the research.
He says: “We wanted to know what growers are looking for in a break crop and exactly what is driving that choice.
We are aware cabbage stem flea beetle [CSFB] has had a huge influence and made many more growers consider winter linseed as a break crop.
It is a strong contender for those thinking about making changes.
Equally, if you decide to stick with oilseed rape, we would recommend going for high erucic acid rapeseed to ensure the maximum return.” Respondents were asked about their motivations for introducing a break crop in the rotation.
There were four key reasons given: the value of the break crop in its own right, the ability of the break crop to enhance the yield of subsequent crops, the control of weeds and the control of pests.
They were also asked to rank how important these reasons were from most to least, and 62% of those who responded felt that yield of subsequent crops ranked first or second, followed closely by control of weeds with 60% ranking it first or second.
However, the value of the crop (51%) and control of pests (43%) were also clearly important factors.
Among the other answers in this section, many referred to the importance of the break crop’s effect on soil structure.
Mr Padbury says: “Given the views on the value of the crop itself and its ability to enhance the yield of subsequent crops, it is clear break crops are really important and making the right decisions is critical to growers’ businesses.
Many of the additional comments mentioned the importance of the break crop to enhancing soil structure, which is another factor in the success of succeeding crops in the rotation.
“When it comes to control of pests, winter linseed has a definite role to play and can help with the control of CSFB and slugs.
It also performs well when it comes to conditioning the soil for first wheat.” One of the most significant findings from the survey is the question of how much winter oilseed rape respondents will be growing for harvest 2021 compared to the amount planted this year.
For harvest 2020, the number growing no WOSR at all was 50% of the sample, but for next year’s harvest this number has risen by 14 percentage points to 64% – nearly two-thirds – and those planning to grow large amounts has reduced.
The number of growers of 100-199ha is down from 6% to 4% and the 50-99ha range is down from 9% to 6%.
“This is a really big swing in terms of growers’ plans for harvest 2021,” says Mr Padbury.
“Taken across all growers, this would make a significant difference to the amount of WOSR being grown.
More than half of respondents quoted ‘unreliable establishment’ as the reason for reducing the area of WOSR they plan to grow.
I read that as being the effect of CSFB and I think that will also have had an influence on the other reasons given, such as the high cost of growing the crop.” When it came to autumn sown break crops, 32% of the sample opted for winter beans, while a significant 37% would rather go for a break crop in spring.
Mr Padbury says: “The number choosing spring crops is surprising and I suspect black-grass is a big factor in that.
Although growers planning to grow winter linseed is smaller at 13%, this is higher than we would have expected.
“If this is projected across the arable sector, given what we know about the amount of winter beans grown each year, in relative terms we could see 15,000-20,000ha of winter linseed which is a significant area and definitely shows an increasing number of growers are seeing this as a serious option.
Choices for autumn break crops are severely limited which is why winter linseed is becoming more popular.
“In fact, when asked if they would or might consider growing winter linseed, 62% of respondents agreed they would and 9% already grew the crop.
In terms of management and timings, winter linseed makes good sense as a direct replacement for oilseed rape.”
Reinforcing the findings about what growers look for in break crop, 45% of the sample quoted ‘enhancing the yield of subsequent crops’ as their main reason for their choice of break crops.
When it comes to looking at gross margins, winter linseed competes very well against crops such as winter beans.
Contract prices are about £350 per tonne, with yields at 3-3.5t/ha and relatively low input costs giving margins of £500-600/ha.
“It’s never going to compete against a high yielding crop of oilseed rape,” says Mr Padbury.
“However, you have to manage your rotation and make decisions in light of the risks involved.
Many growers swear by winter linseed and are very happy with the benefits it brings, such as improvements to subsequent wheat crops and the money they make from it.
If you are going to grow OSR, we would recommend going for the highest return from a high erucic acid rapeseed.” A lack of knowledge about winter linseed and concerns about harvesting still remain significant barriers to growers not adopting this crop.
Nigel Padbury says: “At Premium Crops, we have a huge amount of knowledge about growing winter linseed [see box].
“Twenty-five years ago, spring linseed was challenging at harvest but that simply is not the case today.
Harvesting winter linseed in July is probably as easy as any crop on the farm.
“Today there is no reason for growers and agronomists not to include winter linseed in plans and it is encouraging that so many are thinking that way.” Finally, the survey looked at spring break crops and a surprising number were open to this possibility, with 61% already growing them and 28% who ‘would’ or ‘might’ consider them.
Mr Padbury says: “Spring break crops also provide some interesting opportunities.
As well as spring linseed, canary seed is a growing market and naked oats deliver a premium price.”
For growers and agronomists who are interested in finding out more about growing winter linseed, Premium Crops has lots of information on its website – premiumcrops.com – including its Linseed Growers’ Guide to download.
You can also subscribe to technical updates and access their agronomists who have unique expertise in linseed. To ensure the information is bang up to date, Premium Crops has established monitor farms which provide regular reports on their crops during the season.