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Establishment is Key to Unlocking OSR Profits

Date Added: 03/07/2008

Attention to detail is vital in ensuring good crop establishment and unlocking the true potential of oilseed rape. That is according to Stephen Goodwin of Home Farm, Marston St Lawrence in Northamptonshire who believes that paying meticulous attention to how his crop of oilseed rape is sown enables him to maximise the crop's profitability.

Mr Goodwin grows 200 acres of oilseed rape on his 950 acre farm near Banbury and he firmly believes that getting crops off to a good start makes them easier to manage throughout the remainder of the growing season. And come harvest time, the crop will have maintained a much more even canopy, making it easier and quicker to harvest with less pods being missed by the combine's header.

"In order for any crop to achieve its best yield, it must establish properly, otherwise you will always be on the back foot," explains Mr Goodwin. "The key is to prepare the best possible seed-bed and to keep cultivation as shallow as possible.

"That way, soil disturbance is kept to a minimum and less moisture is lost from the soil. It also allows the worms to naturally improve the soil structure, giving a honeycombed effect with excellent natural drainage.

"My preferred method of sowing is to direct-drill, as a one-pass system not only saves on time and labour costs, but also keeps diesel consumption in check," Mr Goodwin adds. "However, if the soil structure has become too compacted, it is not always possible to direct-drill. That is why I always carry a spade with me when out in the fields so that I can dig soil profile pits to assess what is the best cultivation technique for each individual field."

Where soils have become over-compacted, a sub-soiler is used to a depth of approximately 9-10 inches to allow roots to extend both vertically as well as laterally. This encourages improved root development which in turn results in higher yields, particularly in dry summers.

"This year I direct-drilled in 10 inch rows," Mr Goodwin explains. "This placed the seed exactly where it was wanted, and at the same time enabled me to reduce the sowing rate from 80-90 seeds per square metre to 65-70 seeds. This has produced 30 plants per square metre. The canopy was therefore not too thick, as I have found that a dense canopy can often have a detrimental effect on final yields."

"We also concentrated on creating the smoothest possible seed-bed in order to ensure good soil to seed contact. We rolled the ground before and after drilling using a GPS parallel tracker to give really accurate roller coverage. This procedure also helped to lock more moisture into the soil which improved the germination rate," explains Mr Goodwin.

Following a successful harvest last year, Mr Goodwin has used NK Grace again this season. "We chose to use the same variety for the second year running simply because it established so well last time and because it seems well suited to our light soils," he explains.

The seed was given an additional head start by being pre-treated with Cruiser on the advice of Richard Elsdon, Technical Manager at United Oilseeds. He believes that the high prices that rapeseed is currently achieving means that it is worth investing a little more management time to ensure that the crop's full yield potential is attained.

"The latest generation of seed treatments can reduce disease and pest damage by up to 50%, and increase crop growth by more than four plants per metre squared in the early stages," Mr Elsdon states. "Crops therefore establish more vigorously, cope better with over-winter pressures, and will ultimately return a higher yield."

As a result of this level of careful crop management, this year's crop established exceptionally well, despite being sown a couple of weeks later than Mr Goodwin would have ideally liked. "We share a lot of machinery with our neighbour and were late harvesting his wheat because of the wet weather last summer. I didn't manage to plant the oilseed rape until the first week of September. Fortunately, this didn't present too much of a problem as we had got everything else in order and NK Grace is so vigorous that it just wants to grow anyway. It has subsequently gone on to yield a very satisfying 5t/ha." Mr Goodwin concludes.

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