Farmers aim to grow UK's first viable organic OSR crop

The yield of organic oilseed rape crop is low and variable in organic farming
The yield of organic oilseed rape crop is low and variable in organic farming

Five farmers have launched a project to try and grow the UK’s first viable organic oilseed rape crop for the animal feed supply chain.

The Scottish organic farmers have spearheaded the pilot project with help from commercial feed processor Norvite.

The project is backed by Soil Association Scotland-led Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS), a group formed to meet a need for locally grown organic protein for pigs and poultry.

“At the moment we’re sourcing organic feed materials from as far away as China,” says David McClelland, technical director of Norvite.

“We have a local market for it. If we can get a local supply it represents a huge opportunity for us and the farmers.”

Murray Cooper, of mixed organic farm Mains of Thornton near Inverurie, said organic oilseed rape is 'notoriously difficult' to grow.

“I don’t know of anyone in the UK growing organic oil seed rape on a commercial scale,” he says.

“But growing it ourselves would give us control, reduce our reliance on imported soya - sometimes of questionable origin - plus it will reduce our fuel footprint. And in Norvite we already have a processor.”

Innovation field trip to Sweden

Seven RISS group members recently returned from a study trip to Sweden, where they visited several farmers successfully growing organic oil seed rape.

Swedish farmers grow 10,000 hectares of organic oilseed rape annually out of a national total of approximately 110,000.

“Sweden is on the same latitude as Scotland with a very similar climate,” says Mr Cooper, “so it was really encouraging to see them growing it.”

“The tricky bit is the weeding of it. We’re not really geared up for it here but over there they have a machine that sows, fertilises and does interrow weeding. I’m talking to the other farmers about how we might get one for use here.”

Alongside other farmers in North East Scotland, Mr Cooper will plant oilseed rape in a trial field in September.

“I’ll plant it with spring beans and winter barley - that way I’m guaranteed a crop,” he says.

There’s a risk of crop failure with oilseed rape every five years, but the group believes that with specific techniques of planting and weeding, as Swedish farmers have developed, this can be overcome.

The group has another 10 or so farmers watching with interest and is looking for funding to develop the plantations as rigorous trials that will create a blueprint for growing oil seed rape nationally.

But with or without it, they will plant come autumn.