14 February 1997

Spring plantings steady but wide cropping shift

By Charles Abel

TOTAL spring plantings are set to match last years, but with big differences in the popularity of crops, Dalgety stressed at its spring briefing at Throws Farm development centre, near Great Dunmow, Essex, last week.

"Overall winter wheat plantings are 7.5% up on 1995, winter barley 8.3% up and winter rape up about 12%," said seeds manager Barry Barker.

Wheat sowings were down on the anticipated 9% rise (Arable, Sept 20), mainly due to a cut in later plantings following adverse weather in some areas. Extra barley sowings were attributed to a surge of interest in new high yielding varieties with malting potential – particularly Regina.

Those increases broadly offset the cut in set-aside, which added 5% to the total winter and spring cropping area. As a result the area available for spring planting is little changed, maintained Mr Barker. But big changes in crop choice are likely.

Spring barley plantings will probably hold steady. "Crop prospects remain buoyant, despite pressure on malting premiums due to yields and European stocks. Buy-back contracts will be harder to come by this year and there is a little more uncertainty in the market," Mr Barker acknowledged.

Dalgety figures suggest a spring barley gross margin at least £220/ha ahead of spring rape and feed peas – assuming a quality malting premium of £35/t over feed. Quality marrowfat and maple peas close the gap to £143/ha and £120/ha respectively.

Of the non-cereal crops spring linseed will show the greatest area change, slipping 25% to reflect the 10-fold rise in winter linseed sowings. Those are mainly surviving well, said pulse and linseed manager Julie Goult. However, bibionid larvae damage has caused problems in some areas, hitting late sown cereals too. It is easily confused with frost heave, she added.

Predicting spring rape sales is more tricky. A considerable area of winter rape will need patching up due to pigeon and weed problems. As much as 15% of later drilled crops may need attention, suggested Ms Goult.

But to balance that there will be less set-aside for industrial rape plantings. A static total area is forecast.

Pulse crops will continue their existing trends – spring beans slumping, while peas advance. Spring beans are set for a further 25% slide in area, reflecting an uplift in winter bean plantings. Meanwhile, peas represent the best bet for an increase in area, possible by as much as 15%. "Though there has not been the adjustment in area aid we hoped for, there is still optimism," Mr Barker said.

Spring barley looks set to maintain its area this season, says Dalgetys Barry Barker. But spring linseed is likely to dip by 25%, due to the big rise in winter variety plantings, adds the companys Julie Goult.


SPRING CROPPING


&#8226 W wheat up 7.5%, w barley 8.3%, w OSR 12%.

&#8226 Largely offset by 5% set-aside cut.

&#8226 S peas up 15%.

&#8226 S barley and OSR static.

&#8226 S linseed down 25%.

&#8226 S beans down 25%.