For David Fuller-Shapcott who farms near Kelso in the Scottish borders, beating the weather is a constant challenge.
“Autumn’s are very short and wet, which means we battle to get crops established and it can be difficult to travel in the spring so spray timings can also be difficult. Whilst at the other end of the season we need to leave crops in the field that bit longer to maximise sunlight and keep biomass growing for as long as possible,” he explains.
However adapting cultivation and establishment techniques, a focus on soil health and a large amount of patience has brought success to the cropping at Sweethope Farm.
Mr Fuller- Shapcott’s crop of Ambassador oilseed rape took the Bronze award in the 2022 national ADAS YEN competition yielding 7.33t/ha. This is not his first YEN win for oilseed rape, in 2019 he won a YEN Bronze award for a crop which yielded 6.4t/ha, calculated as 63% of its yield potential.
Oilseed rape is the main autumn break crop at Sweethope Farm in a rotation that maximises first wheats. Oilseed rape is grown one in six which usually means about 45-50ha is grown in any one year. Spring barley is grown for the local distilling market and winter barley for brewing. Soils are heavy clay and run up to over 200m above sea level.
The farm also features 32ha of permanent grass used as grass park lets for cattle and sheep, plus 17ha of mixed woodland.
Oilseed rape establishment at Sweethope is based on a cultivator, using nine narrow and shortened subsoiler tines, to create relatively undisturbed slots ahead of a heavy packer. A row of 9 disc coulters and covering tines follow the packer.
The crop entered for YEN in 2022 was drilled into a field of fairly virgin oilseed rape soil following winter barley after five years of grass.
“This meant less slug pressure, which can often be more of an issue than CSFB, with our heavy, cold soils. As it was after grass we didn’t have a cover crop in this particular field,” says Mr Fuller- Shapcott
“The crop was drilled on 27th August at 2.2kg/ha -targeting 20-25 seeds/m2 – the aim is to have 22 stems/m2 at harvest. I am looking for large single plant, not a field of cress,” he says.
“I chose to grow Limagrain’s hybrid, Ambassador for several reasons.”
“We moved into hybrids for their vigour in the autumn. I don’t want too much vigour in the spring when I cannot travel and keep up with the crop.”
“It’s not just one of the highest yielding varieties on the AHDB Recommended List, but also offers a very high oil content and this boosts gross output. I have found varieties with inherently low oils harder to push.”
“Good light leaf spot resistance up here is key and Ambassador offers one of the highest resistance ratings of 7. It also offers pod shatter resistance which is very valuable.”
Mr Fuller-Shapcott points out that Ambassador also offers N-Flex which minimises yield losses in sub-optimal N conditions, making a variety adaptable for both high and low input scenarios.
He was interested to see what the benefits of this would be on his own soils and nitrogen regime, so in 2021 he carried out a small farm nitrogen trial looking at rates and timings between Ambassador and sister variety Aurelia, that does not offer N-Flex.
He found that at lower nitrogen levels, Ambassador performed as well as Aurelia at normal nitrogen levels.
He believes that this provides the crop with flexibility. “If ground conditions are too wet or the weather closes in before we can get on with fertiliser in the spring, we are not compromising the potential of the crop too much- it gives us that really valuable leeway.”
Mr Fuller-Shapcott enjoys being part of YEN and believes the learnings from it are incredibly valuable.” YEN has taught me importance of canopy structure in oilseed rape and how to manage this to achieve a particular yield and we work to this. We know that if we have 100,00seeds/m2 and a 5.0 TSW we are looking on average at a 5t/ha crop.”
“To achieve this we want to influence the structure of the canopy to promote podding at the top, aiming for an ‘oak not a pine’,” he says.
“I take a very much balanced approach to crop nutrition – not pushing the crop too hard but enough to produce a decent output with justifiable inputs. I have learned from YEN that it is worth feeding the crop well from the beginning; little and often.”
“For this crop I was aiming for about 160kgN, but in fact ended up applying less, only 133kg but this does not appear to have impacted the crop performance – and we put this down in some part to the N-Flex ability of the variety.”
“Fertiliser in liquid form is applied down the spout at drilling (subcasting), which increases rooting. Spring nitrogen goes on as soon as its possible to travel. For this crop that was around the 20th March when 66kgN went on.”
“On the 12th April we applied the same again, both doses using a 30%N and 9% sulphur liquid (W/V) with trace elements.”
“With OSR we always make sure there is adequate Boron, and tissue testing through the season gives me an insight into what the plant needs at different times,” he says.
Disease control is started as soon as he can travel, with a keen eye on Light Leaf Spot. “Last season the first spray was around the third week of January, this was followed up on the 18th April with a PGR and fungicide, and again at the end of flowering.”
“Magnesium, phosphorus and potash, also went on at this timing to help build seed size.”
Mr Fuller-Shapcott doesn’t rush to desiccate. “If we think the crop is ready, we try and leave it for another week – which does require a large amount of patience! But we have found it pays off, as it means we never have any red seeds.”
“This crop was desiccated on 26th July. Usually our rape crops have a birthday, but last year it was ready early and was combined on the 14th August- and the rest as they say is now in the YEN records!”
David was Arable Innovator of the Year in the 2018 British Farming Awards, Agriscot Scottish Arable Farmer of the Year finalist in 2018 and Scottish Rural Awards (Agriculture) finalist in 2019, Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year finalist 2019 and Scottish Land & Estates award winner 2019.
2016 saw Mr Fuller Shapcott take second highest potential yield prize in ADAS’s Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) wheat competition, achieving over 60% of the crop’s calculated potential yield.
This was a step up from 2015 when a yield of 14.2t/ha gave him the bronze potential yield award in a bumper harvest year when just across the border Northumberland grower Rod Smith broke the world record with a yield of 16.52t/ha.