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Uneven OSR Growth Requires a New Approach

Date Added: 01/07/2008

As the harvest season rapidly approaches, many growers are currently gearing up towards desiccating their oilseed rape crops. This year however, growers are being urged to give careful consideration about how to tackle this season's uneven crops in order to ensure that they achieve the full value of their harvest.

The poor establishment of much of this year's oilseed rape has resulted in a very uneven crop. Establishment was hampered in the autumn, with crop emergence being delayed by a period of several weeks due to the dry conditions that much of the UK experienced in late August and early September. In fact, establishment in some areas was so poor that many fields were re-drilled with wheat. Those crops that did show through grew slowly due to the high incidence of Downy Mildew which was seen at its highest levels for several years.

Pigeon grazing of almost biblical proportions meant yet more damage, even for well established crops. Low spring temperatures exacerbated the situation with many crops being grazed for a significantly extended period.

Fortunately, the warmer spring weather that did finally materialise came gradually, with a regular fall of rain. This allowed the more hesitant crops to catch up to some extent, although the general picture across the UK is one of uneven crops with varying levels of plant maturity.

Many growers are therefore facing the problem of how to deal with these uneven crops. Richard Elsdon, Technical Manager for United Oilseeds, suggests that growers should resist the urge to either swath or apply glyphosate to their entire oilseed crop in one hit.

"There is a common misconception that applying glyphosphate to an entire crop in one go will allow a crop to even up. This simply is not the case. This type of strategy will result in a crop of very mixed quality - some plants will be at their optimum whilst others will still be very immature.

"Any immature plants will have smaller seeds of a lower oil content and are likely to have a high chlorophyll content. This will cause these crops to be rejected as they will not reach the grade of Good Merchantable Quality (GMQ).

"Harvest oilseed rape is currently worth £345 per tonne ex-farm. Such a valuable crop therefore deserves a little extra attention to ensure that it is given every chance to reach its full potential."

Mr Elsdon believes that, where possible, growers should only harvest those fields or parts of fields that have fully matured, with the combine making a second visit to the field as soon as the remaining crop is ready. For many farmers however, this strategy simply won't be practical. Where this is the case, a similar outcome can be achieved by leaving more advanced crops to mature naturally, whilst applying glyphosate to the less mature areas.

Similarly, applying glyphosate with a polymer such as Pod Stik or NuFilm-P will help to retain the seed of the most mature plants while the less mature crop is drying down.

Mr Elsdon adds that "There is no easy answer to dealing with immature crops. The worst approach would be to treat an uneven crop as if it was all at the same stage. The best solution is therefore to adopt a dynamic management strategy to combine crops at their optimum stage of ripeness. This will allow growers to make the best of the increased value of what is one of the most profitable break crops available to UK arable farmers."

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