The objectives of the Masstock Group’s new Best of British Oilseeds project are clear – drive up yields of a crop with a positive future, but one which lacks targeted research.

“We’re underperforming as far as the genetic potential of the crop goes,” says the group’s seeds manager David Neale.

“We’ve had yields in trials of over 7t/ha, which gives an idea of what can be achieved, admittedly with very high inputs, but realistically our aspiration is to lift as many growers as possible from the current 3t/ha average to 5t/ha.”

Eight growers across the country (see map) have signed up for the project.

Each will grow a 6ha (15 acre) block of Excalibur oilseed rape, chosen because of its high yield, early maturity and low biomass.

“They’re all characteristics that are worth quite a bit to farmers.”

The grower blocks are backed by six major R&D oilseed rape sites across the country, which aim to investigate in more detail research priorities, such as different establishment techniques, seed rates and nutrition.

“It builds on previous trials, which were led by growers demanding more information.

Previous research was pretty limited – not least because it is not an easy crop to do small-plot trials in.”

The plots, larger than in traditional small-plot trials, have already started to provide valuable information in new areas, he says.

“I don’t think anyone else, for example, will have information on different seed rates, or have looked at which varieties suit which drilling dates.

That type of information is lacking for rape, where it is expected in wheat.”

The trials underpin the whole BoBO project.

“It is why this project is different from other [oilseed rape yield boosting] projects.

We’re not just taking a blueprint from Germany and imposing it on a UK crop.”

That is not to say German or other European ideas are not being considered, he says.

“One thing we can copy from Germany is their attention to detail.

Everything stops for oilseed rape, and it gets treated with as much respect as wheat.

“But we have to recognise there are differences in conditions between here and Germany – not least they have a proper winter, and we have many more problems with slugs and pigeons – and practices may not transfer effectively.”

Establishment at each site has been using the farmers’ traditional practices this season.

“As you would expect it varies significantly across the sites.”

But it is in the areas of seed rate and crop nutrition where Mr Neale expects the project to have most influence in changing growers’ current thinking.

“Nutrition is much neglected in oilseed rape.

If you’re pushing it for yield it needs to be fed accurately and properly.”

The BoBO project has no set time scale for completion, but Mr Neale expects it to run for a number of years.

“The crop has to be profitable in its own right post CAP reform.

With biofuel, energy and new healthier food oil markets opening up there is plenty of potential, but we need to raise yields to make the most of them.”

mike.abram@rbi.co.uk