10 April 1999

Top tips for linseed profitability

This spring is likely to see the largest ever crop of

linseed in the UK – two or three-fold higher than 1998. Andrew Probert from Hampshire merchant Robin Appel offers 10 tips to make it a truly bumper year for linseed.

Go for early maturity, yield should be secondary. A late harvest is everyones nightmare.

Top yielding crops start with top quality seed. The average germination from home-saved seed tested in our laboratories is only 60-65%. Sowing such seed is clearly a false economy when fully certified; dressed seed is available at £45-£65/ha.

Aim to establish 450 plants/sq m to produce single stemmed plants. Expect a 30-50% loss from seeds sown to plants established. Too low a seed rate delays maturity as each plant will tiller more. Too high a seed rate wastes money and increases the risk of lodging.

Drill early to maximise yield and for an early harvest. The best yields consistently come from crops drilled in March. In some situations in some years, February drillings have taken place.

Drill into good conditions – not wet cloddy seed beds. The ideal seed bed is a top layer of 1-3cm of fine soil covered with small clods, with a firmer zone below to act as a limit for the drill coulter.

Always use anti-flea beetle seed dressing – it allows earlier drilling and minimises crop damage. Vitavax or Hydraguard.

Match nitrogen to soil types – too little nitrogen may limit yield, while excess nitrogen can increase lodging risk and delay maturity.

Sands/shallow chalks 100kg/ha N

Medium/clay 75kg/ha N

mineral soils

Organic/mineral soils 35kg/ha N

Peat 0kg/ha N

Weed control in linseed is often overlooked. Linseed is not a good competitor so effective weed control is essential. Poor weed control reduces yield, delays maturity, is likely to result in admix claims or, at worst, necessitate cleaning. Its a classic case of penny wise, pound foolish. Most weeds can be controlled cheaply and effectively provided they are sprayed early (when the crop is at about 5cm stage). Product choice is quite wide; main herbicides are Ally, Eagle and Vindex.

Dont overlook grass weed control because the open growth habit of linseed presents an excellent chance to control them, particularly wild oats, blackgrass and brome.

1998 harvest saw spectacular yield increases from fungicide applications so these should be considered if the weather looks unsettled through the flowering and seed fill period.

The main diseases are botrytis, fusarium, septoria and alternaria. Unless the weather is baking hot, it is nearly always economic to use a fungicide mid-flowering. Choice of product is dependent on the disease risk; lower levels may only require a cheap mbc or chlorothalonil product. For a more robust treatment chose Punch C or Folicur, which proved effective last year.

And if the weather remains unsetttled during flowering consider a second application two weeks later.

Dont mess about – desiccate your crop. Plan your desiccation so that your linseed follows on naturally from your wheat harvest. In our experience, desiccating early with products like Touchdown greatly speeds things along with little or no detriment to the overall seed yield. It also has the added benefits of being cheap and giving a good level of perennial weed control.

All oil values are under tremendous pressure at the moment and for the immediate future. Linseed is no exception with new crop values having fallen by nearly £30/t in the last three months. Our advice to growers all along has been to sell the crop forward. Remember the price could easily drop further.

The other consideration is that there will be huge pressure to move crop at harvest. With the possibility of two to three times the normal level of production, movement at harvest could well be difficult unless you have booked your tonnage forward. Speak to a linseed specialist to get the up-to-date position.

Linseed under Agenda 2000

DESPITE the euphoria surrounding linseed this year, what will happen for harvest 2000, 2001 and 2002?

"There is a huge amount of mis-information regarding linseed under Agenda 2000. Predictions of the crop disappearing after this harvest are nonsense. In my view harvest 2000 will see another sizeable crop of linseed in the UK, decreasing in 2001 as Agenda 2000 measures bite." So says Andrew Probert.

His reasons are two-fold:

&#8226 Linseed payments will be scaled back over three years as follows:

i530/ha for harvest 2000

i461/ha for harvest 2001

i391/ha for harvest 2002

&#8226 Oilseed rape will still be subject to MGA cuts through to the 2001 harvest under the Blair House agreement. These will result in the oilseed rape subsidy being £100/ha and £50/ha less than linseed in the 2000 and 2001 harvest years respectively.