With weather, pests and disease taking their toll on oilseed rape (OSR) crops this season, growers are reconsidering the crop’s place in the rotation.
According to a recent ADAS report, OSR yields are down by around 10 per cent down compared to 2015. Growers are putting this down to a combination of poor weather, verticillium wilt and cabbage stem flea beetle damage.
However, despite these concerns, the latest planting intentions survey undertaken by Independent Business Resource this summer, suggests OSR plantings are set to stabilise this autumn.
The survey, commissioned by Monsanto, included interviews with 200 growers. Results suggest national plantings will fall for the fifth year in succession, but by only around half last season’s 66,000 ha (163,000 acres).
Of the majority of growers sure about their 2016/17 plantings, the 30 per cent planning to reduce their winter rape area is balanced by 28 per cent planning to increase it, with 42 per cent intending to plant the same area as they did in 2015/16.
Given the focus of recent CSFB problems, plantings in the Eastern Counties and East Midlands look set to fall noticeably. In contrast, however, plantings in the North East, West Midlands and South East are likely to increase.
One farmer looking to reduce his OSR acreage is Hertfordshire grower, Andrew Watts. He says: “We are planning to grow only one-third of what we grew three years ago, mainly because of low yields, flea beetle and stem larvae.”
See also: Growing away from the threat of CSFB
If Mr Watts does not see any improvement in his oilseed rape yield next season, he plans to eliminate the crop from the rotation altogether.
Taking more drastic measures is Essex grower, Edward Ford who will not be growing any OSR next season after his best crops achieved 1t/acre (2.5t/ha), while some of his worse amounted to only 0.7t/acre (1.7t/ha).
He says: “At its current price and with the banning of neonics, as well as taking into account the cost of slug pellets used in the next crop, it is not sustainable to grow OSR. I think further north it is ok but down here, it is a real struggle.
“Another big reason is it is increasingly hard to control black-grass in OSR. You think you have controlled it, the crop grows up and then you come to harvest it and it is full of black-grass.”
Some growers are increasing the length of their OSR rotations, according to Kent-based Agrii agronomist Neil Harper.
He says: “Some farms on a three-year rotation are now looking at four-plus years or whether it’s better to be five-plus because of flea beetle.
“Some are drilling rape in the next week and some in the next fortnight.
“One farmer is giving up rape because he’s had a lot of straw to chop this year which leaves high residue levels making it more challenging to grow rape. If the seedbed isn’t right it knocks it.”