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“Seven Pillars of Wisdom”

Date Added: 22/08/2016

Blog: By Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

T.E. Lawrence

I was under the mistaken impression that this book was a treatise on self-improvement as, let’s face it, that is what the title seems to imply. In fact, the origin of the title comes from Proverbs telling us that the keys to wisdom involve, amongst other things: prudence. sound judgement and knowledge. Those of you of a more classical disposition will already be aware that the book is an autobiographical account of the experiences of T. E. Lawrence aka “Lawrence of Arabia” during the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918. He organised and fought with the Emir Faisal and his tribesmen, organising attacks on the Ottoman forces. Their efforts eventually led to the Ottomans yielding to the well-organised and inspired locals.

This mention of yields, using the word in a slightly different way, encouraged me to look at the output of oilseed rape from our growers, both individually and as a group. Overall, the oilseed rape harvest of 2016 has been at the lower end of the scale with many growers looking at an output of around 2.5 tonnes per hectare, which is disappointing. However, as is often the way, there have been some ‘beacons of light’ in an otherwise gloomy harvest – including in areas that suffer from flea beetle.  As you can see below, there were growers who had a fairly good OSR harvest.

So what have these growers done differently? Before going any further as with all things connected with growing a crop, I would suggest that there can often be an element of luck. Let us remember that Napoleon is on record as saying he wanted to use Generals who were ‘lucky’. I would, however, suggest that these growers made their own luck by rigidly, some would say slavishly, following the basic tenets of rape growing. Here are my “Seven Pillars”:

  • The soil must be in good condition without poor drainage resulting in areas of crop failure in a wet
    winter. Remove ant compaction.
  • Soil pH is 6.5 to 7 across the field. No acid areas.
  • Any deficiency in phosphate or potash is corrected, then the lesser elements are considered such
    as magnesium and manganese, before going on to consider the trace elements. Consider using
    nitrogen in the seedbed.
  • The seed bed is prepared thoughtfully taking in to account the condition of the soil and any trash
    remaining from the previous crop.
  • There has been a discussion with an agronomist to decide the most cost effective herbicide
    regime. If pre-emergence herbicides are to be used, they are ready and waiting in the spray store.
  • On the day of drilling, the seed rate has been carefully set, as has the drilling depth. The rolls
    are ready to, well, roll, as soon as drilling has got under way. The soil is checked again and a
    decision made as to the number of passes needed by the rolls to achieve the appropriate
    seed/soil contact.
  • Take out any volunteer cereals, especially barley, when they have two true leaves.

I have deliberately focused in on the establishment of the crop, as once the crop is growing, the later applications of fertilizer, insecticide and fungicide can be done as the need arises. In most cases, if you get the seven pillars of wisdom well established, everything else tends to fall into place.

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