Bounce back expected for winter oilseed rape

Andersons and BASF are anticipating a large bounce back to the area of winter oilseed rape this autumn, following a very mixed year last year.

Research economist at the Andersons Centre, Graham Redman estimates the current area of winter oilseed rape could be as low as 530,000 hectares and that this will increase to over 600,000 ha’s this coming autumn.

He reports that three years ago in 2007 the rape area was the highest it could practically be within the context of rotational constraints at 664,000 ha’s of winter rape, including 78,000 ha’s of industrial rape on set aside land. Growers are well aware of the impact on yield of too close a rotation and the majority are sticking to a 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 rotation.

Last autumn saw enormous difficulties getting the crop in on time and, even once in, there were problems managing it effectively. Some crops never got planted, others were grubbed up and others didn’t establish well enough. More spring crops were grown in the vacuum left by both rape and wheat and there was more land left fallow.

But Graham Redman predicts a healthy bounce back for winter oilseed rape this autumn to over 600,000 ha’s for harvest 2010. He points out that farmers want to return to their original planning intentions of last year and are trying to get their rotations back into kilter.

He points out that winter oilseed rape has an important position in the arable rotation not just as a break crop but also as a cash crop in its own right.

Gross margin analysis of an average farm shows winter wheat at £110/tonne giving a gross margin of £550/ha, winter oilseed rape at £240/tonne a gross margin of £460/ha and winter beans at £156/tonne a gross margin of £440/ha, making oilseed rape an attractive crop.

Graham has also analysed the Anderson Loam Farm model and has calculated that next years rape crop will have a lower cost of production per tonne. For harvest 2010 when yields will hopefully be better than this year at an average of 3.5 t/ha, the cost of production is expected to fall to £229/tonne including overheads such as rent and finance.

Graham says that the higher the yields achieved, without losing control on inputs costs, the lower the cost of production per tonne. This together with the Single Farm Payment of £230/ha makes growing rape a more positive option than in the past few years.

He points out that winter wheat retains the top position in most arable rotations, with the cost of production per tonne of feed wheat at Harvest 2010 estimated to be £114/tonne, on Loam Farm assuming a yield of 8.8 t/ha, and for milling wheat £129/tonne.

Graham concludes that arable farmers also need a good break crop such as winter oilseed rape in the rotation. The crop fits in well with the timings for other combinable crops, it offers alternative herbicide prospects to wheat and can be profitable in its own right.

Following what can only be described as a difficult start to last season and, in some areas such as the Borders in Scotland a disastrous start, growers will be looking to reset the dial when it comes to the autumn plantings, according to Oilseed rape Marketing Manager for BASF, Will Reyer.

"We estimate that the current winter crop may be no more than 500,000 hectares, but fully agree that a return to 2008 planting levels is realistic. In fact, in a national survey of leading agronomists we found that winter rape areas are likely to be at least at the original levels of last autumn and in quite a few cases will be increased still further."

The survey also indicates that most agronomists are set to make sure that the crop is drilled well in time, from the 15th August to the 15th September, and will be encouraging their growers to concentrate on good establishment. The consensus is that a well established crop is vital for high yields, as is early pre-emergence weed control with herbicides based on metazachlor.

Will Reyer points out that what is good for crop establishment is good for weed control. He also advises that pre-emergence to cotyledon stage of the weed is best for effective weed control, taking out weed competition early and allowing the crop to flourish.

BASF have established an enviable range of herbicides for use in winter oilseed rape, well suited to the UK weed spectrum. Metazachlor is still a good core active for the programme, but is incomplete. Products like Novall and Springbok include additional ingredients which allow them to control a wider range of weeds across more variable conditions. Novall draws on the benefits of quinmerac which adds especially on Cleavers and Poppy while Springbok includes dimethenamid-p which adds Crane’s-bill and Shepherds purse in particular. Shadow, containing all three active ingredients, is the most complete solution available.

Will Reyer concludes that rape growers will want to go back to basics this autumn, get their crop in well and on time and start their weed control early. Then they will be rewarded with a high yielding and profitable crop and a less stressful start to the crop year.