16 August 2002

Oilseed:

Drilling and harvest flexibility

Could rotational benefits

herald the return of oilseed

rape to more arable fields

this autumn? We report on

two growers who are

reaping significant

management benefits

from the crrop

OILSEED rape with good autumn vigour and harvestability provides an ideal entry for wheat at Rise Farms, Skirlaugh in Yorks, where manager, Andrew Johnson needs the greatest possible drilling and harvesting flexibility to keep on top of the estates 1000ha (2470 acres) of wheat, barley, oilseed rape and vining peas.

"Pressure on gross margins means we need a simple system which minimises labour peaks and investment in new equipment," stresses Mr Johnson. "It is all about better usage of time. Drilling and harvest are the most labour intensive operations on the farm, so providing flexibility in the system helps spread the labour and machinery resource."

Including oilseed rape in the rotation ensures an early harvest and time to prepare a stale seed-bed for the first wheat entry. It also boosts first wheat yields by at least 1.2t/ha (0.5t/acre). Oilseed rape and peas are grown as breaks for first wheat, and winter barley gives the ideal entry back into oilseed rape.

"We grow barley to get back into rape," Mr Johnson explains. "We have considered continuous wheat, but 400ha of the crop is enough to worry about and we need to spread our risk, so its important we balance it with other combinable crops like rape and peas.

"Oilseed rape gives us up to a month to prepare a stale seed-bed before cereals are drilled. Peas are an alternative, offering a reasonable gross margin potential. But they are shallow rooting and dont break up the ground in the same way as some oilseed rape varieties."

New higher yielding varieties have brought a long run with Apex to an end. "Canberras excellent autumn and spring vigour is ideal for establishment and over wintering. This means it can be drilled later in the season, which is a major advantage for us, because it makes the system much more flexible if weather conditions deteriorate in the autumn. Short and stiff straw also makes it ideal for direct combining."