Oilseed rape is a crop with great potential, according to one Oxfordshire farmer who has teamed up with three key players in the arable sector to maximise his yields. Luke Casswell reports.

Oilseed rape is a vital part of James Price’s rotation and he is now aiming to boost its value by pushing his yields up to 5t/ha with the help of a new industry initiative.

Based on some challenging Cotswolds brash soils, Mr Price along with his father, has managed to produce average rape yields of about 3.7t/ha, with organic manure one of the key elements in helping his crop thrive.

See also: Cabbage stem flea beetle control vital this autumn

Through a mixture of: digestate, clean water sludge, compost, sewage and sewage cakes; more than 6,000t of organic manure is being applied to 450ha/year, improving the soil fertility and increasing moisture retention.

“Water is one of the most limiting factors for our oilseed rape yields as we don’t get the rainfall and don’t have water retentive soils so it is vital to get them in the right shape,” he said.

Oilseed rape

Mr Price is also putting more emphasis on his soils at Perdiswell Farm through careful cultivation and by using precision farming to manage applications and inputs.

Farmer Fact file: James Price

  • Location: Woodstock, Oxfordshire
  • Acreage: 650ha
  • Rotation: Five-year rotation of wheat – spring barley – winter oilseed rape -wheat – beans (winter or spring)
  • Oilseed rape varieties: Incentive, Excellium, Alegria

A switch to direct drilling with a Claydon drill, working on 600mm wide rows has helped improve soil structure and weed control.

“We’ve seen huge benefits on the blackgrass front by using min-till, with the effectiveness of Kerb drastically improved due to the weed only coming from a shallow depth,” he added.

Now is the most critical time for oilseed rape, according to Mr Price, who says it vital for it to get away from increasing pest pressures including cabbage stem flea beetles, slugs and pigeons.

Fertiliser placed straight on at drilling and early slug pelleting is crucial in offering the crop the best chance to achieve this early growth.

3×3 initiative in a nutshell

Three companies with three aims have formed a partnership to drive a better understanding of the agronomic choices available to meet the economic and environmental challenges in oilseed rape. Monsanto, BASF and Yara have teamed with three aims in mind; yield, profit and sustainability.

Having achieved a 4.1t/ha average yield this summer, Mr Price points out that finding ways of producing a crop that eclipses the national average yield will be vital in the future to keep it viable, following a plummet in prices and the EU ban on neonicotinoid seed dressing.

The 3×3 initiative

The new industry partnership pulls together the expertise of plant breeder Monsanto, fertiliser giant Yara and agrichemical group BASF, who have joined forces as part of this 3×3 initiative, to drive yield, profit and sustainability.

Trials focusing on the key areas of oilseed rape management are being set up on Mr Price’s farm in Oxfordshire and also on a farm in Lincolnshire.

“It will be exciting to use the accumulative expertise and see what varieties work, how to get the most out of crop nutrition and also look at cultivations among other things,” said Mr Price at the launch of the new initiative.

James PriceYara agronomist for North East Europe Mark Tucker, explains a similar initiative has proved a success in Denmark where trial sites have seen yields of up to 7.1t/ha and highlighted fertiliser timings as critical.

He points out that while spring is often seen as the most pivotal stage, autumn applications can prove vital with now until October the key period.

“September will be critical to get the 30kg/ha on, which can help improve yield or reduce the amount of N you need to put on in the spring,” he said.

William Reyer from BASF said a lot of oilseed rape has been drilled early this season and may have got away well, and so may need a autumn plant growth regulator application.

“This is typically a spring application for many farmers but this year could be different,” he explained.

Looking ahead, Monsanto’s Kuldip Mudhar, said the trend of UK growers moving towards hybrids will provide a key factor in pushing forward oilseed rape crops.

“Disease and stress tolerance found in hybrid varieties are giving farmers more insurance in proving vital in some testing circumstances,” he said.