Explore niche spring crops for healthy margins

New CAP greening regulations, a greater need for cultural control of key grassweeds and low grain prices are pushing the popularity of spring crops. These niche options could provide some healthy margins

Spring linseed

Pros and cons

+ New “EasyCut” varieties are earlier and easier to cut than conventional ones
+ Good choice of weed control options

– Concerns over late and difficult to harvest conventional varieties
– Possibility of a volatile market due to the small area of crop grown

Spring linseed is normally sown every four to five years from mid-March through to mid-April and can be direct drilled or conventionally drilled into a range of soil types.

It is a break crop that can improve soil structure. Harvest normally occurs in late August and early September providing an entry into wheat. The straw can then be chopped or burnt in the swath.

There are a number of options for weed control, including pre-emergence Avadex for blackgrass control.

Fixed prices and premiums over oilseed rape are available, and prices have remained relatively strong in recent years while prices in other crops have slumped.

Potential gross margin
Variable input costs £200/ha
Average yield 2.3t/ha
Grain price £375/t
Gross margin £662.50/ha

Spring Linseed

See also:Top tips when choosing a niche crop

Naked oats

Pros and cons

+ Healthy market for straw
+ Undersupplied market providing opportunities for growers

– Growers need separate storage
– Lower yielding than conventional oats

Treated as a normal oat crop, spring naked oats can be sown mid March into mid April on a range of soils types and harvested in August.

Naked oats are oats grown for their lack of hull, with largely similar agronomy to husked oats but require more careful combining.

There is a rising demand for naked oats in the markets for birdseed, pet food and animal nutrition and despite yielding around 20-25% lower than conventional oats they can achieve higher premiums.

The straw also has a good market with values reaching up to £125/ha, which can improve the gross margin significantly.

 Potential gross margin
Variable input costs £306/ha
Average yield 4.5t/ha
Grain price £200/t
Gross margin £594/ha (+ £125 straw)

 

Borage

Pros and cons

+ Provides a true break crop on the farm
+ Very low-input crop with minimal pesticide and fertiliser use

– The availability of a swather is essential as is the use of a Draper Pickup Header.
– Borage will not perform at its best on very light, drought prone soils.

Borage can be sown from April through into May taking 110 days from drilling to harvest. It can be grown on a range of soil types except drought prone ones.

It provides a natural break crop and suffers from very few pest and disease problems while at the same time being an attractive crop for bee populations.

Mildew control is vital and hitting weeds early with a pre- emergence herbicide is also crucial as there are no post emergence options for broadleaved weeds. Meanwhile borage volunteers in the next crop will need to be controlled.

There is a growing demand for high-grade UK borage oil, for use in dietary supplements as well as ointments to treat skin disorders and buy back contracts are available to growers.

 Potential gross margin
Variable input costs £320/ha
Average yield 380kg/ha (0.38t/ha)
Grain price £3.10/kg (£3,100/t

Gross margin

£858/ha

 Borage

Quinoa

Pros and cons

+ Impressive buy-back contracts available
+ Growing market for new “super foods”

– Lack of actives to control grassweeds and broadleaved weeds
– On-farm drying facilities required

Quinoa is typically sown in early April and ready to harvest at the end of August and into September, being cut with a conventional harvester prior to the essential drying phase.

See also: Read more on British quinoa

It is more suited to lighter soils that have less moisture retention. There are currently no approved herbicides available in the crop with fat hen, bindweed and volunteer oilseed rape the main threats.

Similarly there are no fungicides currently approved which make foliar nutrient sprays important to keep the crop healthy.

The “super food” has become prevalent in premium salads and health food shops with buy-back contracts of £1,000/t available for growers with a minimum area of 5ha needed.

 Potential gross margin
Variable input costs £351/ha
Average yield 1.5t/ha
Grain price £1,000/t
Gross margin £1,149/ha

See also: Find out more about how to grow your own quinoa crop

Quinoa