Thursday, November 14, 2019

Attention to detail delivers resilient oilseed rape crop

July 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

A Lincolnshire grower is optimising oilseed rape production through wider row spacing, minimal soil disturbance and careful varietal choice.

Tim Booth says his chosen strategy has encouraged remarkably resilient crops on his 360ha arable farm at Fenhouses, near Swineshead. Even last year’s cold spring and summer drought did little to dent yields – although flea beetle is a problem in the area.

“I have been growing oilseed rape for 25 years now and I’ve used at least ten different methods to improve yields during that time,” says Mr Booth.

“But it’s only recently that I have really started to fully understand the relationship between the space plants need to develop fully, how to get them to establish reliably – and the key role the variety plays in all this.

“It’s certainly not easy. You can think you have a great looking oilseed rape crop but in reality it’s too thick and most of the pods are at the top of the plant. Unfortunately, you often only realise this at harvest when the yields turn out to be lower than you had anticipated.”

Results at harvest are directly related to establishment decisions with a “less is more” approach often best, says Mr Booth. “You are usually much better off with fewer plants that develop properly with canopies that allow light to penetrate properly so pods mature at all levels.

“Last year, for example, we drilled a field of Kielder on 19 August with a single pass using a Simba 5-tine drill followed by light rolling. It’s visibly the most consistent looking crop we have ever grown in what has historically been a troublesome field.”

Mr Booth says he uses 60cm spacing and tries to move the soil as little as possible. This means plants establish quickly and have space to grow well. Stalks are noticeably thicker, which is good for standing power and lodging resistance – and pods form down to the base of the plant.

Having confidence in the varieties you choose is essential, adds Mr Booth. “There are so many complications with establishing oilseed rape now that you have to stack the odds in your favour by selecting the highest vigour varieties.

“With oilseed rape you have to invest in most of the key inputs up front. I would say 80% of our fungicide spend takes place before Christmas, so you really don’t want a variety that will give up in February and March – which so many crops around here did this year.”

Flea beetle challenge

Mr Booth adds: “I think some of the problems could be traced back to flea beetle damage in the winter but the key issue was the drought conditions in which the rape was drilled. You do really need a strong variety for it all to work.”

Variety of choice for the last two years has been Elgar. Some 40ha is now in the ground alongside another Elsoms variety Kielder. It established very well in the autumn when other local crops were struggling then grew strongly in the spring after nitrogen was applied.

“We have consistently achieved oil contents of around 45% with Elgar and yields of 4.5t/ha including last year when yields were below 3.0t/ha for many of our other varieties. We’ve hit over 5.0t/ha in some fields, but it’s the average that’s more important to me.

“Elgar has looked good all through the growing season but the Kielder looked exceptional – even, strong and with just the right plant population and canopy structure so with a few weeks to go before harvest I’m confident it will yield well.”

Crop management

In total, the crop received 300kg/ha nitrogen as Nitram (34.5%) with sulphur now starting to be used on all oilseed rape crops on the advice of Frontier agronomist Nigel Mason.

While admitting oilseed rape production is never a certainty, Mr Booth says it’s still the best break crop – especially within the complex rotation on his own farm. The rape area varies between 60-80ha and will always play an important role within the business, he says.

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