Frontline growers offer alternative viewpoints


Alison Lewis, Herefordshire

A healthier bank balance rather than the opportunity to produce a healthy, stable oil suitable for food processors is behind the decision of a Herefordshire farming business to grow new Nexera spring rape variety Nex 160 for the past two seasons.

“Unlike some spring crops with a potential premium, Nex 160 has a guaranteed premium,” says Alison Lewis, who along with her son, William, farms 174ha (430 acres) of arable at Ash Farm, Much Birch in Herefordshire.

For the 2004 crop, the premium was worth 15/t over the market price at the time of delivery, while the previous season it was worth 10/t, she says. “It’s not a holiday in the Caribbean, but it is enough to do the shopping at Tesco.”

In addition, oil content of nearly 45% paid an extra 10/t on top in oil bonus, says United Oilseeds area manager Richard Elsdon, who persuaded Mrs Lewis to give Nex 160 a try. “Nexera typically produces oil contents higher than conventional types. That bonus could have been double what a conventional double-low variety might have got, meaning total extra premiums of 20/t are not uncommon.”

Nexera represents Mrs Lewis’s first real foray into spring oilseed rape. “I like to have some spring cropping, and this provides a break and spreads labour costs,” she says. “Having the market already lined up was a plus point compared with beans or spring barley.”

Nexera also fits into Mrs Lewis’ philosophy of growing relatively low input crops. “It was relatively easy to grow. Planted into the right ground conditions, it came up fast with only a short time between bare ground and flowering.”

Inputs were restricted to Butisan S (metazachlor) for broad-leaved weed control, and two insecticide sprays to control flea and pollen beetles. Final yield was 2.75t/ha (1.1t/acre) in 2004 compared with 2.3t/ha (0.94t/acre) the previous year.

Not being able to farm-save seed is a downside, says Mrs Lewis. “Apparently home-saving could change the blend of oils produced. Not being a hybrid I was hoping to be to able to home-save. It does feel like being held to ransom.”

Nex 160 is crushed to produce Natreon oil, which is a healthy, more stable oil offering food processors a healthier option, according to Dow AgroSciences. But that doesn’t concern Mrs Lewis. “The only health I’m interested in is my bank balance.”


Richard Clark, Staffs

Increasing the area grown of the industrial oilseed crambe is removing Staffs grower Richard Clarke’s reliance on crops destined for human or animal consumption.

Almost one-quarter of the arable area at Clarkes’ Farms will be crambe next season, after gross margins averaged 401/ha (162/acre) in the past two seasons, says Mr Clarke.

“This looks to be the way forward. Demand for oil is increasing at a time when margins on food crops are under increasing pressure. Moving more acres to non-food cropping allows the farm to spread risks of price pressure.”

In 2003, crambe – grown on contract for 150/t for seed supplier Springdale Crop Synergies – returned a gross margin of 351/ha (142/acre) including set-aside area payment, he says.

“We were fortunate to have a near-perfect growing season for crambe in 2003.”

Harvested with a conventional combine fitted with a side-knife yields were 2.23t/ha (0.9t/acre) across 8.9ha (22 acres), despite late drilling. “Forming a stale seed-bed helped ahead of drilling helped, and because disease pressure was low we avoided using fungicide altogether.”

But 2004 presented a different challenge on the 21.6ha (53.5 acres). Mild, damp weather meant attack from pollen beetle was greater than in 2003, when one insecticide spray was sufficient.

“Wet weather meant we could only get one insecticide on instead of two during the vulnerable flowering period, which probably lost 5% in yield.”

Similar losses were incurred when harvest was delayed due to heavy showers. Despite these setbacks, yields of over 2.5t/ha (1t/acre) and a better contract price for oilseed of 180/t – promoted by the establishment of a new crushing plant in the north east – have led to forecast gross margins of 451/ha (182/ac), up 100/ha (40/ac) on 2003.

“I am confident that having an industrial crop in the rotation makes sense for this farm,” concludes Mr Clarke.

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