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Oilseed Rape Still Performs with Later Drilling

Date Added: 21/08/2008

Don't give up on the idea of growing winter oilseed rape just because of rain-induced planting delays, growers are being urged.

Later drilling needn't mean low yields, stresses Richard Elsdon, technical manager for United Oilseeds.

The crop can still be drilled up to 15 September in the north of the country, and up to the end of September in the south, he says. It's just that agronomy decisions may need tweaking to compensate for potentially slower establishment, he adds.

"The UK is currently experiencing one of the most difficult harvests for many years," explains Mr Elsdon, "with rain almost every day in August. Many growers have spring barley, oats and winter wheat to combine. So it's understandable that patience is being tried and some growers will be saying to themselves ‘it will soon become too late to plant oilseed rape'. That, in my view, would be a mistake."

Based on current nitrogen costs and crop values for harvest 2009, Mr Elsdon reckons oilseed rape still shows excellent gross margins compared with other break crops and with winter barley and second wheat.

Furthermore, HGCA research has repeatedly shown that far from being a disaster, later plantings can yield as well, if not better than, early drillings, he points out.

"Work done in 1998-99 showed that, with the exception of a site in Perthshire, drilling up to 15 September gave similar yields on sites across the midlands and south of England, with only a slight decline on a site in Lincolnshire.

"More recent work by HGCA published in 2001 showed no yield depression when comparing yields from crops drilled on 31 August and 25 September. They used seed rates of 60 and 120 seeds per square metre." Such results have also been backed up by commercial field observations, he adds.

"Last season, we saw how crops struggled through the most trying autumn and winter for many years yet, in the main, still gave a worthwhile yield and gross margin. From our own observations, we saw 20 September-drilled Flash still yield as much as 4.9 t/ha."

However as well as selecting a variety with good autumn vigour for later drilling, such as a hybrid, he believes it's also worth backing this up with a seed treatment for added protection. Last season, crops treated with Cruiser were able to grow quicker, he observed.

ADAS researcher John Spink agrees that delayed drillings of oilseed rape can perform as well or better than earlier drillings. Certainly there was little or no yield loss as drilling proceeded through September in trial plots, he notes. "Certainly from the midlands south."

Indeed, while early drilling often produces too many pods, the crop actually has the potential to produce sufficient pods even from very late plantings, he notes, but weed, slug and pigeon control become more difficult. For that reason, he says seed rates need increasing as time goes on to ensure that plant numbers are not reduced by slugs or pigeons and to give adequate crop competition against weeds.

"Seed rates may be increased to a maximum of 120 seeds per metre squared in adverse conditions," Richard Elsdon points out.

Grower's View

Bedfordia Farms farm manager Ian Rudge doesn't see too much of a problem with later oilseed rape drilling on his land just north of Bedford. In fact, he says some of his highest yields came from later drilled crops last year.

"I'm not too averse to late sowing, particularly in high fertility situations. I will be sowing oilseed rape right through to anything up until 18 September. I would go later if I needed to. It's emergence date that matters rather than drilling date."

His main concession with later drilling is to increase seed rates. He also tends to favour hybrids in later drilling slots.

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