13 December 1996

Linseed beats peas in battle of the novel winter crops

LINSEED is surging ahead of peas in the novel winter break crop stakes, according to trade estimates.

With sowings all but complete, the winter pea area is reckoned to be 20% up on 1995/96, but the linseed area has exploded 10-fold.

This season there are about 4850ha (12,000 acres) of winter peas in the UK, according to Peter Smith of Lincs-based Wherry & Sons. But unprecedented demand for linseed has driven its area up to 28-29,000ha (69,000-72,000 acres), says Semundos Jeremy Taylor.

"Of all the new crops we have been involved with I cannot remember such farmer interest. Two years ago we had just two growers of Oliver. Last year we had 197. This time there will probably be 1500."

After some disastrous spring crop performances in recent dry seasons, neither crop is hard to sell, says Ian Low of Essex-based Harlow Agricultural Merchants. Winter peas have the better potential gross margin, he believes. But with a limited market for the firms small blue canning variety, Froidure, further expansion is unwarranted.

One advantage of peas over linseed is that they can be sown later, says Mr Smith who sells Rafale and Blizzard feed peas. "There had been talk of a 50% expansion, but we are happy with 20%."

Linseed establishment was a problem in parts of the south-west this autumn, says Barry Barker of Dalgety Agriculture, which markets linseed, mainly Arctica, as well as Rafale. But overall both crops have gone in well. "We stand by our estimate of 23,000ha total for winter linseed – last year we reckoned there were 1500ha."

John Manners of United Oilseeds, who has had no reports of establishment troubles in either crop, believes the relative area figures are about right. Discrepancies may be due to linseed growers cutting sowing rates by about 10%, he suggests. "Seed is sold in acre packs, but a lot of growers they contain too much."

The big question, he says, is what effect the upsurge in winter linseed will have on the spring crop. Its area fell last season to about 45,000ha (111,000 acres) from a peak of some 150,000ha (371,000 acres) in 1993.

With edible spring varieties – dubbed linola – commanding oilseed rape prices, the case for growing spring types for industrial oil is increasingly hard to make, he adds. "Why put in Barbara when you can grow Windermere?"


WINTER LINSEED v Peas


&#8226 Linseed area up 10-fold.

&#8226 Pea area up 20%.

&#8226 Linseed 23-29,000ha.

&#8226 Peas 4850ha.

&#8226 Spring linseed doubts.