20 June 1998

HYBRIDS TOP OF SUMMER

SEED POPS

Which rape varieties will dominate seed orders this summer? And is Apex – at long last – on the way out? Gilly Johnson quizzes the trade.

HYBRIDS are riding high. All the major seed merchants are forecasting a continued swing into the hybrid oilseed rape varieties, both north and south of the border.

The three leading players are the varietal association Synergy, and the restored hybrids (fertile hybrids) Pronto, and to a lesser extent, Artus.

According to Dalgetys David Neale, Pronto and Synergy were running neck-and-neck nationally at about 10% market share each last year – although Synergy dominates in the north. Given a good harvest this summer, sales of these varieties can only go up, he predicts.

True, the seed is more expensive – growers should expect to pay about £55/ha (£22.30/acre) for Synergy and up to £60/ha (£24.30/acre) for the restored hybrids – but the promise of 10-15% more yield makes it worthwhile.

"Look at it this way," says Tim Hirst of BDR Agriculture. "The cost of hybrid seed works out at about £16.15/ha ahead of Apex. But you should see about £90/ha extra return from the higher yield."

This financial logic has struck a chord with growers. Orders for Synergy and the restored hybrids are expected to take a 25-30% chunk of the rape seed market this year – perhaps more. In Scotland, hybrids could account for half the winter rape seed market, reckons Allieds David Waite.

"Of the restored types, the choice will be Pronto in the north," he predicts. "When seed runs short, this variety will run out first."

Concerns about hybrid pollination and variable yields have faded following excellent hybrid performance last year. And commercial results would appear to have been better than NIAB yield scores would indicate, suggests Mr Hirst.

Last year was the first commercial season for the restored hybrids and seed sold out fast. Now more seed is available as British-based production comes on stream.

The tall and weaker-strawed restored hybrid Artus is proving less popular. Breeders agent CPB Twyford suggests its suited to less fertile sites with lower yield potential. Small quantities of other hybrids will be offered regionally; look out for Panther (yields similar to Pronto) which offers good light leaf spot resistance. It didnt make the Recommended List but would be a good alternative if Pronto runs out.

But dont be blinded by all the excitement over the hybrids: old favourite Apex still dominates the seed market south of the border, after five years.

"Why? Because growers have spent the past few years learning how to manage Apex," says Tim Hirst of BDR Agriculture. "Its been consistently good on yield, its stiff and its easy to harvest. Theyre not going to switch without good incentive."

Apex took 70% of the rape seed orders last year – higher than many traders were initially expecting. "Ive been predicting a fall in Apexs popularity for the past few years, but have been proved wrong," says Jim Black of Banks Agriculture. "Im still saying it, and perhaps this time itll finally happen: Apexs market share will decline to perhaps 40%."

Mr Blacks forecast is backed by some of the major players. BDRs Mr Hirst guesses higher at 60% for his order book. Whatever the eventual size of the fall, the slack will be taken up either by the new hybrids or new conventional varieties.

Theres no doubt that conventional oilseed rapes will have a tough time breaking into a market split between Apex and the hybrids. But some of the runners deserve a try, and have the backing of the major seed houses.

On offer from Dalgety, Cargill and others is Contact, a short and stiff strawed Apex type, which is just a tad earlier to harvest, and has higher oil content. It also has good phoma stem canker resistance. Seed list price is £6.75/kg.

Or theres Alpine – another higher oil Apex plant type. Herald will also feature, but straw is a little weaker. Exceptionally high yields are the selling point for new entrant Madrigal – its only three points behind Synergy in the Recommended List yield rating. This variety stands at flowering and then leans over to form a canopy. Boston is the other newcomer.

Meteor did well last year in the central and south-east region – and Lipton had success in the south-west. With good early vigour, Licrown has shown itself suited to dry conditions, says Mr Black of Banks Agriculture.

All these conventional varieties will be battling it out over whats left of the seed market after Apex and the hybrids have swallowed up the lions share. Prices are likely to be around the £6.50-6.75/kg mark, although high vigour Licrown may have an edge due to lower seeding rate – at 5kg/ha. This puts the cost back to between £30-35/ha (£12.10-14.20/acre).

Those looking for bargain basement seed might consider re-visiting Capricorn. This classic old variety still attracts a loyal, but small following – perhaps the price (£4-4.50/kg) partly explains the appeal.

Scottish growers are a conservative bunch when it comes to rape varieties, and although the demand for hybrids is rising fast, there will still be buyers for Commanche and Falcon, says Allieds Mr Waite.

Light leaf spot resistance, and earliness, are what northern growers are looking for, he explains. Hence the enduring appeal of early Gazelle and disease resistant Express. "Herald also looks useful for the Scottish market. Yields have been good – level with Madrigal."

Because of the pressure on seed turnaround, those growers who aim to drill rape super early rely on seed carried over from the previous year. They should book now, warns Dalgetys David Neale. "Theres a limited amount available – its on a first come, first served basis."

Talk in the trade is of the rape acreage rising once again this autumn due to the buoyant market. Mr Neale agrees that the figures do stack up well for rape compared with cereals.

"But it may not be that easy to fit in extra rape to the rotation," he says. "The area went up by 10% last year but barley fell back. That could put a lid on large-scale increases this season – barley makes a good early entry for rape."

Above: Between a third and half of rape drilled this autumn could be in hybrid varieties. Inset: Ease of harvesting helped give Apex 70% of seed orders last autumn.