NEW figures from AHDB’s Early Bird Survey have suggested the net oilseed rape (OSR) area could fall for the fifth consecutive year – the lowest area since 2004.
The survey predicted the 2017 rapeseed area will be just 557,000ha – 4 per cent lower than this season – though the Midlands, south of England and Scotland are expected to benefit from good growing conditions and higher prices.
Robert Gazely, a consultant from Strutt and Parker, said: “We have been finding it incredibly difficult, there is absolutely no OSR left in Essex and that is a combination of poor germination due to drought and cabbage stem flea beetle.”
Industry leaders met at NFU headquarters in Stoneleigh this week to discuss the problem.
Speakers from Rothamsted Research, AHDB Cereals and plant breeders gave presentations on cabbage stem flea beetle resistance, integrated crop management techniques and improving the performance of OSR.
NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said: “OSR is a crop which is instrumental in the rotation for many growers. It has set the benchmark for other crops in the rotation. There is a demand for this crop but we cannot grow it. Farmers should be expected to respond to market signals.”
OSR problems for growers have been compounded by the three-crop rule, which has left them unable to grow a third wheat without being taken over the 75 per cent threshold for their main crop.
Mr Hambly also raised concerns about OSR harvest falling below the ‘critical mass’ which supports infrastructure and markets.
“There is a certain volume of crop that is required to keep crushing plants in operation and we certainly would not want to see any reductions that caused a change in the infrastructure”, he added.
Emergency use applications for neonicotinoids were also discussed at the NFU event, but both Mr Hambly and Mr Gazely said the situation could not be solved by neonicotinoids alone.
“Last autumn, we had neonicotinoid dressed crops which were ravaged by cabbage stem flea beetle, so it is not just about that”, added Mr Gazely.
Mr Hambly told Farmers Guardian he was ‘not quite sure we have arrived at a solution yet’, but said it is vital for the industry to work together to tackle the growing problems presented by OSR.