Early maturing rape varieties are showing good vigour, appear to be able to grow through pigeon damage, bring forward harvest earlier and extend combine days on the farm, according to agronomist Martin Bartholomew of Hampshire-based Bartholomews.Martin Bartholomew finds that early maturing rape varieties are very attractive options as they bring forward harvest and spread workload across the farm. "We don’t grow much winter barley in the South so any crop that can bring the combines into action that much earlier is very worthwhile to a farmer who has a lot of acres to get in the barn".He is particularly impressed with the low biomass oilseed rape variety Alienor which is the earliest maturing variety according to the HGCA. "I have some Alienor which was drilled on the 6th September using a low seed rate of just 2 kgs/ha and it is looking very well and particularly vigorous and advanced this spring."According to Martin Bartholomew, he has noted that Alienor appears to be able to keep growing at lower temperatures and in the spring it looks to have good canopy structure with a lot of pod sites. "Simon Kightley at NIAB has noticed this Alienor as the only variety that looked any different in terms of early spring vigour. In my experience it is in the spring where the differences were dramatically different."He points out that by choosing an early maturing variety doesn’t obviate the need to go for a high yielding crop. "I target rape yields between 4 – 5 tonnes per hectare and plan a programme to achieve this. It starts by getting a really good seedbed and then having the confidence to use low seed rates. I use a seed rate around 40% of normal seed rates in order to create a low plant population of large plants that don’t compete with themselves, have the space to grow and are able to create a high seed yield. I am not interested in masses of vegetation and if the crop is too thick, it will be low yielding," he says.Martin has found that early developing varieties such as Alienor have the tendency to keep pigeons off and are certainly less vulnerable to this difficult problem.Martin concurs that Alienor may have 2-3% less yield than some other varieties but he says that its earliness brings distinct advantages to growers. "I would rather have a rape variety that shows good early vigour and so keeps the pigeons off, one that survives the vagaries of the winter with excellent disease resistance, one that has low biomass and so is easier to manage and one that matures six to seven days earlier. It is perhaps a comfort factor, but I would rather have a good yielding variety with a combination of important characteristics as it stands a much better chance of fulfilling its true potential.""Last year with the prolonged and wet harvest, an early maturing rape variety could have avoided the critical window and growers could have got their crop harvested and in the barn early, "says Martin Bartholomew.This spring vigour has also been noticed by TAG in their replicated trials. These trials show that Es Alienor is just as vigorous as the best commercial available hybrid variety Excalibur and significantly better than some other recommended hybrids. In National List trials Es Alienor and DK Cabernet showed equal vigour, but this year’s result shows that Alienor has better spring vigour. Castille and Astrid confirm their growth patterns as normal with new variety Es Cubic, a direct derivative of Astrid with the same multigene resistance to Phoma, having increased spring vigour compared to Astrid."Farmers are looking for varieties that have a package of strong agronomic features that make the management of the crop easier and more cost-effective," agrees John Hardy of Grainseed."Alienor is the earliest maturing variety. Looking at the HGCA maturity assessments where 1 is the latest maturing and 9 is the earliest maturing, Alienor has a rating of 6.7, Excalibur 6.3, Castille 5.8, Astrid 5.6, Epure 4.2 and Expert 4.1.""In practical terms this means that Alienor will be ready to harvest and in the barn before the combine even starts on some other varieties. Being the earliest maturing conventional variety means that it fits well into standard crop rotations and helps to spread the workload at harvest across the farm. This is a real advantage to busy farmers with a lot of acres to harvest and to drill. It is an ideal partner variety to grow in combination with the low biomass variety Astrid which matures slightly later. What farmer should avoid is growing too many acres of later maturing varieties as their crop rotation are out of kilter," he says.John Hardy concludes that Alienor’s unique early maturity plus its other agronomic characteristics of low biomass and high combined disease resistance make it well worth considering planting this coming season.For further comment and information on the oilseed rape varieties Es Alienor or other Grainseed varieties such as Es Astrid, please contact John Hardy, Director of Grainseed Ltd on 01379 871073 or 07836 582436.