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Arable

Spring Cropping

Is spring OSR worth the challenge? With the price of oilseed rape more attractive, some growers are turning to spring oilseed rape as a break crop. Although spring oilseed rape can be challenging to grow – particularly with the dry conditions of recent years – the financial benefits mean that this is a challenge worth tackling, points out crop protection and seeds business Bayer. Chris Cooke, who farms around 80ha in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, is one such example. “Although I’ve done quite well with spring oilseed rape in the distant past, this is probably the first spring crop in 10 years that I’ve grown,” he says. “I had the field coming out of a longterm grass ley, and I thought I could probably make more money from a decent crop of spring oilseed rape than I would do out of something like spring barley.” Mr Cooke selected the variety Builder on the advice of Agrii agronomist Kathryn Styan. Ms Styan notes that the spring oilseed rape variety was planted in the first week of April, and got off to a good start.

“It came up quite quickly, but then struggled for moisture,” she says. “There was a bit of a dry spell, but as part of our nitrogen programme we irrigated the crop with dirty water from a dairy farm, which also provided the liquid that was needed. After that, it just grew!” But Ms Styan and Mr Cooke agree that to ensure that spring oilseed rape is a success, growers still need a considered strategy. Here are five tips they have to help with this: 1. Get your seedbed conditions right. “You want a good, even seedbed,” Ms Styan says. “And a moist seedbed will help it get up and away quickly.” The soil should be warm, at a temperature of around 9–10°C, with a minimum soil pH of 6–6.5. “It’s trying to find the balance – you want it going into warm conditions, but not too late. I’d be looking at the end of March if possible.” 2. Use a higher seed rate. Unlike

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p Spring oilseed rape varieties like Builder offer agronomic advantages if they can get off to a good start. u Agrii agronomist Kathryn Styan.

with autumn crops, a higher seed rate is recommended for spring oilseed rape, since there aren’t the same opportunities to address any problems further down the line. Ms Styan suggests a seed rate of around 90 seeds/m2 for a spring oilseed rape hybrid variety in order to achieve a population of 80–85 plants. “We went with 88 seeds/m2 – it can’t grow if it’s not in the ground,” agrees Mr Cooke. 3. Make sure you use a residual herbicide. “You want to get that weed competition out at the start of the crop,” Ms Styan advises. “Unfortunately, there are not many post-emergence options, so putting down a pre-emergence herbicide is important after getting a stale seedbed.” 4. Picking the right variety can make a big difference. “You want a vigorous hybrid variety like Builder that can grow quickly,” advises Ms Styan, “And it’s also a variety that’s got a good oil content for your end market. Disease resistance is important as well, as it can help limit your fungicide spend.” 5. Keep an early watch out for slugs, pigeons and cabbage flea beetle when the crop is just coming through, and then crucially the pollen beetle at green bud stage. “The main issue the Builder crop at Bromsgrove had was pollen beetle,” Ms Styan notes. “Spring

oilseed rape varieties are just starting to flower when the winter crops are finishing, so while the thresholds for winter crops were not met this year, the transfer of beetles from large areas of winter crops became concentrated in our one field of spring crop.” Mr Cooke agrees: “I think we lost a fair bit of yield due to pollen beetle – at the height of it they were just decimating flowers, and we had to go through every four or five days to keep them under control.” If growers can get spring oilseed rape off to a good start, there are numerous advantages to the crop. “It’s a good crop to just put in and watch it grow once it’s established,” Ms Styan says. “Your herbicide spend with spring oilseed rape is much lower than winter, as you can plant after a good chit of black-grass at the start of spring, lowering herbicide spend and saving you from doing two or three passes later. Getting that stale seedbed at the start is key. The crop is very quick to grow, so fungicide protection and therefore spend is much lower as well, so the outlay for growing the crop is easy to manage.” ■

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Farmers Guide December 2017  

Farmers Guide Magazine December 2017 Issue