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OSR Establishment - The Devil is in the Detail

Date Added: 09/07/2008

Establishment is always the most critical phase when growing a crop of oilseed rape, with the choice of variety, seed dressing and sowing rate not only affecting how quickly or successfully a crop will establish, but also determining how the crop will need to be managed over the next eleven months.

That is according to Richard Elsdon, Technical Manager at United Oilseeds, who believes that successful establishment is based on more than just getting the sowing date right.

"Establishing a vigorous crop is dependent on a number of factors, not least selecting a variety that suits specific farm conditions, sowing at the optimum seed rate and depth in a well-cultivated seed bed, and the application of an appropriate seed dressing," explains Mr Elsdon.

The first consideration for any oilseed grower when selecting which variety to grow will usually be gross output. However, far too often, growers choose a variety that they have seen perform well in a local trial or on a neighbour's farm, and select their variety on that basis alone.

Mr Elsdon advises that growers should be extremely cautious of this strategy and would be better advised to choose a more dependable variety that has been approved onto the HGCA's recommended list. "Many crops that perform well in single trials or under localised conditions, often fail to recreate this performance elsewhere. If the crop doesn't establish adequately or requires excessive inputs to help it through to the next stage of development, it isn't going be a financially sustainable crop.

"The hybrid vigour of varieties, such as Flash and Excalibur can help to overcome this problem - hybrids tend to develop more quickly, ensuring that a much greener crop is established before the winter takes hold."

"Plant height and disease resistance ratings should also be studied in detail," he adds. "However, as these factors can be controlled to a certain extent by careful crop management and by applying the relevant chemicals, these characteristics are of secondary importance in comparison to ensuring good establishment."

The use of seed dressings has become more commonplace, despite the concerns of some growers that they can delay plant development. Mr Elsdon explains that "Seed dressings have become a contentious issue for some growers who maintain that they can retard establishment. But we need to remember why they are used in the first place, and that is to give the seedling protection from autumn pests and to prevent seed borne diseases such as phoma, Alternaria and botrytis attacking the crop in its early stages.

"The newer seed dressings, such as Cruiser OSR, can also protect against downy mildew infection, which despite not appearing every year, has caused enormous levels of damage in this year's crop," he adds. "With the UK's weather becoming more and more unpredictable, the additional protection that these new dressings provide over and above the industry standard, Chinook, is invaluable."

Mr Elsdon also urges caution for farmers intending to use farm saved seed this year. "The generally accepted sowing rate is about 70-80 seeds per square meter for conventional varieties or 40-50 for hybrids. However, these guidelines are for certified seed which will see a minimum of 85% germination. Farm saved seed may not germinate at anything like this level.

"Not only will that limit how well the crop establishes, and how well it recovers from disease and pest damage, but the potential genetic impurity of a crop grown from farm saved seed can also adversely affect yield potential."

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