Neil Groom, technical director of Grainseed, thinks that we will see a revival in the oilseed rape area in the next few years. “We have seen the demise of the winter oilseed rape area, mainly due to the Cabbage Stem Flea beetle pressure and the ban of neonicotinoid insecticide seed dressings. In 2012 the area of rape was over 750,000 hectares and now it is half that. A couple of years ago 14% of rape was ripped up due to this pest. Last year it is just 4% was redrilled. Early seasons costs do not have to be high, with a cost-effective seed such as Keeper, so growers do not have large upfront costs before the pre-em herbicide is applied.”
Mr Groom is forecasting 450,000 hectares of rape for the 2022 harvest and 550,000 hectares for 2023, providing we get another successful establishment.
|Area of rape
|Source June census
“Cabbage Stem Flea beetle (CSFB) has built up in the Southeast and the Midlands where rape has been grown in a tight rotation. Yields have been hit hard by this pest. To reduce this pest pressure, growers can extend their rotations. This will also help reduce diseases such as Phoma and clubroot. This year CSFB pressure appears to be less than it has been in the previous few years and crops are looking good, particularly in the North and in Scotland. Unfortunately, we do not have an easy single solution for the control of this pest, but if you drill the crop into a good seedbed with moisture and choose a variety with innate vigour, you stand a reasonable chance of out-growing pest damage. Two of our conventional varieties, Elevation and Keeper, bred specifically for the UK market by Mike Pickford, show excellent early vigour at planting. Keeper has very large seeds giving it extra seedling vigour which aids establishment. Last year a 4 million seed pack (4 Ha) of Keeper weighed 26 kgs.”
He adds that growers should not over-simplify vigour as this is a characteristic of the individual variety, not the variety type. “In other words, not all hybrids are vigorous whilst some conventionals are very vigorous. Vigour is something that varies tremendously from variety to variety and some conventional rape varieties are even more vigorous than hybrid varieties. It is a message that we have been sending out to the marketplace for a few years now. We advise looking at the individual variety itself, not just whether it is a conventional or a hybrid.”
“Drilling early into moisture is important, as is seedbed nutrition, leaving long cereal stubbles to encourage beneficial insects and sowing companion crop species a week before the rape, so the companion crop hides the rape seedlings. Any companion crop must be rapid growing, frost susceptible and high-quality seed to maximise benefits. All these management tools enable growers to tip the balance in their favour.”
Mr Groom also points out that the price for oilseed rape is looking very attractive and is close to £500/t including bonuses. “This makes rape a more profitable crop, out-performing most other break crops. This will encourage more growers back into growing rape. You also grow rape using normal equipment you have on the farm, no need for special investment in machinery. There is a bullish global market for oil this year so there is good demand for the crop.”
Finally, oilseed rape is an excellent break crop in any arable rotation. It can be used to break the cycle of weed resistance in blackgrass, ryegrass and wild-oats as you can use different chemistry with different mode of action in rape than you do in wheat or barley, reducing the resistance pressure. It also provides the best entry for wheat, giving a boost in yield. It has a large tap root which helps improves soil structure.
Mr Groom concludes that with the current high price, profitability and an excellent break crop plus the opportunity of choosing a vigorous variety with good disease resistance and standing power, many growers could be tempted back to growing rape. “This year’s crop is looking good, much better than last year.”