Meeting the challenges of growing oilseed rape has brought the value of both genetics and crop management practices into the limelight more than ever before. We look at how two growers on opposite sides of the country use these tools to tackle their challenges.
Despite the challenges of flea beetle, slugs and pigeons, oilseed rape is a good break crop for Emma Fletcher who farms 700 ha with her brother on the Leicestershire/Warwickshire border.
“It fits well in the rotation as a profitable break crop, going in after winter barley and before wheat”
The oilseed rape at Burton Fields Farming Ltd is was established via direct drilling with a 9 meter Dale direct drill. “The aim is to drill the crop in August, but the most important thing is to drill into moisture.”
“We have a tick list for the characteristics and traits a variety has to offer,” says Ms Fletcher. “Fundamentally we need it to be consistent, we don’t want a volatile crop that yields well one year and then lets us down the next.”
“Aside from robust agronomics, we also need it to have really good autumn vigour, good disease resistance and we also look for a variety that offers pod shatter.”
“Aurelia ticks all of the boxes, and we were pleased with it in our first year of growing it in 2021 & 2022. We look for the rape to yield 4+t/ha.
“This year’s crop was drilled slightly later than we would have liked which meant it went in at the beginning of September rather than the last week of August, as we held off for a bit more moisture,” she explains.
“We had a few issues with CSFB in the spring. Despite drilling at low seed rates some areas have come through thicker than we would have liked, which we put down to volunteers, and the beetle seem to favour this thicker crop.”
Emma explains that having split hopper on the drill allows for companion crops to be sown at the same time. “Last year we established the OSR with buckwheat. Every other coulter was buckwheat or oilseed rape. We were really pleased with the results and the buckwheat then died off with the first frost.”
“However, this year the OSR has been drilled with a mix of buckwheat and berseem clover, so we shall see if that has made a difference.”
Nutrition at Burton Fields Farm is on a responsive approach with tissue tests being taken season-long and we prefer to respond to these results rather than simply going on with a blanket approach, points out Miss Fletcher.
“This season we have kept it fairly simple with the disease control and tried to utilise nutrition as best possible. In the autumn sewage sludge is put into the seedbed to enhance autumn vigour.”
“Slugs are often a problem in the autumn so traps are used to treat when the threshold is met. PGRs at this time are also very important; sheep have been considered instead of this but there are downsides to using them so we are holding back for now.”
Over in the north west of the country, Richard Reeves of Tattendale Farm has been growing OSR for 40 years.
“We are a fairly traditional arable rotation on a tenancy agreement with Tatton Park Estates, of which OSR is an integral part. We look for yields on average of 4.5t/ha and prefer varieties that we can rely on for a consistent yield.”
“On the advice of our rep, James Hood from United Oilseeds , we opted for Aurelia a couple of years ago and will stick with it again this coming season as it has delivered what we need. It comes though well in the autumn, its vigour is stand out and we haven’t had any issues with disease.”
“We tend to keep things fairly simple as this has always worked for us. The OSR follows barley or early wheat,” says Mr Reeves.
“Waiting for moisture to drill in the autumn is not so much of an issue where we are so we aim to drill in the last two weeks of August, any earlier and we find the crop gets too proud.”
“As we are not in a predominantly arable area, CSFB is not so much of an issue, pigeons are our challenge.”
Our soils take the plough well, so we plough and combo drill the rape straight after, which traps the moisture with the seed.”
Seed rates are around 3kgs/ha. We apply about 140-150kg/ha Nitrogen across two applications of granular product and then top up with liquid. This year we are looking at going on twice with a foliar application as we have found that this increases the oil content. We also apply Sulphur in an N:S mix.
“A single PGR is used in the autumn, and a fairly standard fungicide programme as we have so few disease issues with the Aurelia.“
“At the end of the day farmers want yields as this is what they get paid for, so growing a variety that the best chance of reaching its yield potential is key,” says Liam Wilkinson of breeders Limagrain UK.
“Growers can put in all the leg work, but are still being thwarted by elements beyond their control, which is where plant breeding steps in to protect yield by breeding stacked traits into varieties,”
Beckii Gibbs, seed manager with United Oilseeds, believes that Aurelia’s offering of fully loaded traits, excellent disease resistance, proven performance and good vigour makes it a firm favourite with farmers.
“Aurelia has been the number 1 variety on farm for a number of years now. The fact that it holds a 30% share of the UK certified hybrid seed market speaks volumes. From our farmers’ perspective, it’s a reliable and consistent variety and is likely to remain a popular choice particularly with the good yields Aurelia achieves year on year.”