16 August 2002

Switch from beans ends labour snags

REPLACING winter beans with oilseed rape as the main break in a Cambs cereal and root crop rotation has helped ease management pressures by reducing labour peaks during key drilling and harvest periods. At the same time, high oil bonuses have boosted output.

James Kiddy runs the 263ha (650 acre) enterprise at Yole Farm, Balsham near Cambridge with help from his father and some temporary labour during harvest.

Soil types vary from loamy boulder clay to chalk with the rotation geared towards milling wheat, which can yield over 9t/ha and commonly generates premiums of £15/t.

Oilseed rape and extra oats replaced the beans three years ago as the combinable break. Sugar beet is also grown but only on the light land.

"We harvest our rape at the end of July," points out Mr Kiddy. "That is several weeks earlier than the beans, which we could never take-off until late August or September, and which invariably clashed with cereal drilling and beet lifting."

Oilseed rape follows barley in the rotation once the stubbles have been disced. Agronomic advice is given by Paul Foster of UAP who implements a robust programme to control flea and pollen beetle, phoma, light leaf spot and grassweeds.

"Discing encourages an early weed chit which we burn off with Roundup," explains Mr Kiddy. "This minimises soil disturbance and helps retain moisture. Establishing oilseed rape can be a challenge on some of our chalky and drought prone soils, so we have to have a variety with plenty of autumn vigour.

"Last year we drilled Canberra primarily for its ability to establish quickly. We also felt its short stiff habit would simplify direct harvesting.

Last years crop yielded just under 4t/ha, at 9% moisture or less, with its high oil content giving an extra margin boost. This year high erucic acid rape on set-aside is to be grown on a particularly attractive contract. &#42