With growers in the South and East, in particular, reporting the fastest harvest for many years, some have taken the opportunity to drill oilseed rape a week or two earlier than normal in an attempt to get ahead of pests. However, significant numbers have abandoned the crop for harvest 2017 amid poor prices, poor yields and the scourge of cabbage stem flea beetle.
Kent-based Agrii agronomist Neil Harper estimates the rape acreage in his area is down by 20% for the new season. “There’s a move to spring crops to spread the cost of drilling, control black-grass and keep the cost of production down.”
One East Anglia-based agronomist who has also seen rape area decline said CSFB, pigeons, light leaf spot and black-grass were factors contributing to growers’ decision to have a break from the crop. “There is more of a drift towards spring barley on heavier land. It does an excellent job of cleaning up black-grass. It just needs Liberator, Crystal and a couple of bags of nitrogen so doesn’t need to yield as much as wheat.”
Sugar beet is also coming back a little on medium soils, he added. “But the honeymoon for spring beans is probably over. If you don’t get them in right on heavy land you have no crop. You can also end up with more black-grass after spring beans.”
In the North, however, ProCam agronomist Nigel Scott, who covers the North Yorkshire and Durham area said he has seen no significant changes in rotations. “Cabbage stem flea beetle is not the massive scourge it is further south. Rotations are similar – no vast changes.
“A lot of farms have established rape a lot earlier with all rape drilled now. This has been to get it to grow away from problems. It’s been a catchy time for harvest in the north and it is another job that can be ticked off. So far the biggest issue is slugs.”
A few growers are opting for linseed or peas as alternative break crops to oilseed rape, said Mr Harper. “But more are going for continuous cereal crops, or even fallow.”