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Oilseed Rape Shines New Hope for Region's Farmers

Date Added: 01/06/2008

In an area of the West Midlands that was traditionally a stronghold for sugar beet growers, the bright yellow flowers of oilseed rape are beginning to shine new hope on the profitability of the region's arable farms.

The Kidderminster and Allscott sugar beet factories were closed down to the dismay and anger of many farmers in the region who had been growing sugar beet as their main cash crop for several decades. With the closure of these factories, many farmers believed that their livelihoods were bound to suffer.

At the same time, oilseed rape, which for many farmers was the only crop that could viably replace sugar beet as a break-crop between wheat or barley harvests, was realising less than £150 per tonne. Many therefore held little hope of recovering the revenue lost as sugar beet all but disappeared from Shropshire soils.

However, oilseed rape prices have seen a significant increase over the past 12 months, largely as a result of the simple fact that demand for many foodstuffs is now outstripping supply. And in an era that is experiencing a booming global population and increased affluence in emerging nations such as China and India, many in the industry are predicting that these high prices may be here to stay for some time to come.

For many farmers, this increase in value has put oilseed rape in the limelight as it is now as profitable to grow, if not more so than many other crops, including wheat and barley. As such its position has been elevated from a mere break-crop, to one that is vital in safeguarding on-farm profitability, especially against a backdrop of increasing fuel, electricity and fertiliser costs.

One farmer who now views oilseed rape as one his farm's most profitable crops is Richard Bannister of Beobridge Grange in Claverley near Bridgnorth. Mr Bannister is in his third year of growing oilseed rape. He works closely with James Hood of United Oilseeds, who not only advises him on which variety to grow, but also when to sell his harvest in order to achieve the highest possible financial return.

This year Mr Bannister has grown two varieties of oilseed rape called Expert and Komando, which were recommended on the basis that they both yield exceptionally well. Komando has the added benefit of producing an extremely high oil content. This will deliver a good oil bonus payment for the farm's books on top of the basic price that Mr Bannister will receive.

With the potential to make a good price from oilseed rape, Mr Bannister has spent this year concentrating on making sure that his crop has been given the very best chance of performing well and has invested more management time to ensure that the crop's full yield potential is met.

"The price currently being paid for oilseed rape means that we can justify the additional inputs we are using to look after the crop," Mr Bannister remarks. "Our Komando has performed well this year and we are hoping that the crop will yield a high oil content that will help to improve the price we receive.

"However, we are also facing a significant rise in input costs which have more than doubled over the past year. We must therefore remain vigilant and keep a very close eye on our costs of production to make sure that they don't run away from us.

"But we remain confident in the future" he adds, "and remain hopeful that by selecting the right variety of oilseed rape and growing it in such a way that it yields well, we will see a return to profitability that we once enjoyed from sugar beet."

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