Farmer Focus: Battle to save rapeseed from flea beetles

As soon as the calendar changed to October, we heard summaries of what records September had set in terms of rainfall and temperatures.

Here in the east of the country, growers will remember the month as one when we fought a never-ending battle against the flea beetle. Indeed, with the dry and warm conditions continuing into October, the battle continues.

I have heard of significant areas of oilseed rape being abandoned here and in other areas. In the absence of effective seed dressings growers have had to resort to multiple applications of insecticides to save their crops. I have heard of some growers who sprayed their entire oilseed rape areas eight times.

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About 160ha of six different varieties of seed forage rape and stubble turnip crops are grown on our Royston and Nottinghamshire farms, so we have been under a great deal of pressure, particularly as we are often the only growers of particular varieties.

Seed processors worried that they will have no product to sell post-harvest 2015 are very anxious for us to retain our “crops”, however much of a no-hoper they may seem. The flea beetle issue on the Nottinghamshire sands has been less than that experienced further south.

Our last Countryside Stewardship Scheme expired at the end of September and that farm, along with all the other land we farm in the Royston area, is now in combined Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes set up in the past year.

We spent a long time deciding whether to put the farms into HLS and to commit ourselves for another ten years, but with the advent of EFAs and current commodity prices, it seems to have been the right decision for now. The EFA requirement of 5% of total acreage – probably rising to 7% in 2017 – seems to be the rebirth of set-aside, however with the ability to use our ELS and HLS options to fulfil the area, its effect is going to be more limited for us. Who said decisions were going to be simpler to make?

 Robert Law, 2006 Farmers Weekly Farmer of the year, farms 1,500ha growing cereals, turnips, mustard, forage rape for seed and sugar beet, plus 300ha of grassland supporting a flock of 2,500 ewes. He also manages 500ha of Nottinghamshire sandland.