Farmer Focus: The challenge of finding a crop to replace OSR

The past few weeks have been an interesting time to sit and watch scenarios play out in front of us. Decisions that seem easy on paper have been tricky in the field, so conversations with trusted colleagues have been key.

With varying soil types, we have seen some staggered emergence from chalk to heavy clay cap, which I’m pleased to see has now evened out. We planted spring beans and cereals following different cultivation systems, and the only consistent factor to shine through is soil type.

See also: Tips on getting the most from clubroot-resistant OSR varieties

Regardless of what we did in front of the drill (nothing, a little, a lot), soil type dictated emergence. It was more pronounced this spring, moving from wet to dry and then luckily two heavy rain events which may have saved this harvest.

I ask myself, am I contributing to the problem? How can we go from so wet to so dry and not be able to cope with this?

We have cover crops, compost, livestock, grass leys, a wide rotation, organic manures. We are continually reducing inputs, reducing/eliminating cultivations and are making huge steps forward to increase diversity around the estate… 

I hope our patience will prevail and our commitment to a different approach to arable farming will stand us in good stead.

Looking ahead to autumn, cropping is certainly more challenging without oilseed rape and, due to historical large areas of the crop, there is no doubt we have no other choice than to find an alternative.

Spring peas will be re-introduced, and bean area will increase. Without options of beet or potatoes in this area, true break crops are challenging.

However, this is a good time to look again at the resilience of our system and be brave in making changes now that will protect us in future years.

Annual soil sampling is now complete on six satellite stations across the farm. Hampshire Wildlife Trust has completed its third bird survey this spring and this is something we will now do annually.

We have also instructed an ecology survey of the old brick ponds, with a view to making improvements if required, along with invertebrate and botanical surveys.

We don’t have any watercourses on the farm, so making the most of these ponds could increase biodiversity across the estate.

As others have already said, we are incredibly grateful for the sacrifices made by many over the past eight weeks, especially those on the front line who have kept everything moving. Thank you.