OSR Masters: Growers make a good start to new season

Drilling dates have varied by five weeks and costs are being kept low as our Oilseed Rape Masters get this season’s crops up and away.

Adam Driver, Driver Farms, Brockley, Suffolk

Oilseed rape is back in the rotation after a four-year absence at Driver Farms in Suffolk, but this time it comes with a very different approach to crop management.

© Tim Scrivener

With the focus now firmly on margins, half of the 180ha of rapeseed has been direct drilled into standing straw following the use of a stripper header to harvest the previous spring barley crop, with the oilseed rape going in three or four days later at the end of July.

The rest was direct drilled into chopped barley straw, just a week later, using a different drill more suited to the field conditions.

Minor cabbage stem flea beetle damage means it has grown away strongly, helped by subsequent August rainfall and warmer temperatures.

It has also cost Adam Driver considerably less to establish than the last time he grew oilseed rape.

Back then, the business used a 6m subsoiler approach to establishment, which took far longer to get the operation done and caused blackgrass to germinate from depth, creating control difficulties.

As a result, growing costs were rising and soil health was suffering, especially where the subsoiler was being used in the wrong conditions.

Oilseed rape break
“We took a break from the crop and had a rethink.

“We needed to grow oilseed rape less often and with more attention to soil health, while also getting on top of grassweeds.

“Cultivating for the crop wasn’t going to achieve either of those,” he says.

The farm now has a very flexible rotation, which includes 450ha of spring cropping.

As well as helping with blackgrass control, that change has allowed Mr Driver to make good use of cover crops and improve the condition of the 1,200ha farm’s Hanslope series clay soils, as he heads in the regenerative agriculture direction.

Direct drilling is done wherever possible and the farm operates a 12m controlled traffic farming system – all part of the transition to improved soil health and better profitability.

The new one-pass system for establishing oilseed rape uses just four litres/ha of fuel and allows him to drill 10ha/hour, saving time and money.

Variety choice
He has also stuck to conventional varieties, Elgar and Aspire, to keep seed costs in check and allow the use of farm-saved seed next year.

Buckwheat and berseem clover have been used as a companion crop, with 5kg/ha of each being added to the 5kg/ha seed rate.

“The companion crop added about £18/ha to the seed cost.

“We share a Horsch Avatar drill with a neighbour and used that where there was standing straw after the stripped header,” he says.

Otherwise, he uses a Sprinter with 50mm Dutch points where the crop was going into chopped barley straw.

About 20kg/ha of nitrogen went on as it was drilled, as well as an application of ferric phosphate-based slug pellets.

Some 30ha of the rapeseed struggled to get away, which he believes was due to slugs and drilling too deep, and with hindsight he says that particular field wasn’t quite ready for direct drilling.

Cover crops 
“It is now in a cover crop, which will help to reset it.

“It was mole drained, had chicken muck applied and a light cultivation, with the cover crop broadcast on the cultivator,” he adds.

The remaining crop has already received a graminicide to help with volunteers, but there are no plans for any insecticide.

Clethodim (Centurion Max) will be used later in the year on areas known to have bad blackgrass, followed by propyzamide and aminopyralid (Astrokerb) for any remaining companions and broadleaved weeds.

Going back into oilseed rape wasn’t a difficult decision as it hasn’t involved putting much capital at risk and meets his aim of keeping costs to a minimum without compromising the crop.

“The plan was to get big plants growing as soon as possible so that we don’t have to worry about it in the early days.

“How we manage it from here will be done on a field-by-field basis,” he says.

Steve Klenk, Garnstone Farms, Kings Pyon, Herefordshire

Oilseed rape drilling was completed by the end of the first week in September at Garnstone Farms in Herefordshire, according to the original schedule.

© Tim Scrivener

Farm manager Steve Klenk made some tweaks to the new crop by expanding his use of companion cropping and altering his planned variety mix, but had no intention of bringing the drilling date forward.

“The subsequent management of a crop that’s too thick is tricky.

“We’ve missed flea beetle attack by drilling at the beginning of September before, so hopefully that will be the case again,” he says.

Mr Klenk was pleased with the farm’s average oilseed rape yield of 4.1t/ha at harvest and is now looking to build on the progress that has been made by widening the rotation and improving soil health.

Companion crops
This season, he has included a range of companion crops with the 116ha of oilseed rape, so that they can be assessed for their contribution to soil life, nutrient recycling and pest control.

They also help to add diversity into the arable rotation – something he aims for as input use is reduced.

“The idea is to find out whether one companion crop mix is better than the other.

“Having successfully added red clover to some of our rape fields last year to maintain soil fungi levels, we now want to see what else they can bring,” he adds.

Some 2kg/ha of vetches, buckwheat and clovers – both as straights and in various combinations – went down the spout with the seed at drilling, with the farm’s new Sly Boss drill making it a straightforward operation.

“The drill gives us the option of doing three things at once, so we can also apply fertiliser at the same time.

“It is now busy with grass seed drilling and will then move on to wheat,” says Mr Klenk.

Light cultivation
On the rapeseed ground, a very light spring tine cultivation was carried out first, to create tilth and allow shallow drilling, with rolling done straight behind to conserve moisture and deter slugs.

Half of the crop had 5t/ha of chicken muck, with the rest getting a placement starter fertiliser containing nitrogen and phosphorous.

His original plan to use home-saved Elgar seed without a seed treatment was thwarted by a poor germination test. Instead, he is growing four varieties and has taken the opportunity to assess a promising newcomer.

Clubroot resistance
The clubroot-resistant hybrid Crome was put on 10ha of land that was previously let for sprouts and has a history of the soil-borne pathogen.

There are also 25ha of the conventional variety, Acacia, which is up for recommendation later this year, with the remaining area being down to popular existing choices Elgar and Aquila.

All were just up at the time of Farmers Weekly’s visit, with Mr Klenk keeping a close eye for any signs of pest damage in the early weeks.

His weed control plans are fluid at this stage.

No pre-emergence herbicides have been used, saving upfront investment in the crop, but a low-rate graminicide for volunteer control will be applied.

“After that, we will see what’s required.

“The buckwheat will disappear as it gets colder, but the other companions may have to be taken out with Astrokerb,” he says.

Alan Clifton-Holt, AA Clifton, Romney Marsh, Kent

Apart from refreshing the oilseed rape varieties being grown this autumn, Kent grower Alan Clifton-Holt is sticking to a system that continues to give consistent performance.

© Tim Scrivener

In a year that many found very challenging for oilseed rape, results from his 2019 harvest show that a good proportion of the rapeseed grown on the Romney Marsh farm yielded just over 5t/ha.

The two exceptions were the Clearfield varieties, which came in at 1t/ha lower, and some rapeseed being grown on land that droughted out in the very dry autumn of 2018.

Even so, his poorest crops still managed 3.4t/ha.

“We are always looking to improve what we do and keep learning.

“It was an average oilseed rape harvest for this farm, with just a couple of disappointments,” he says.

Clearfield varieties
Having reviewed the results, he has dropped Clearfield varieties and committed his entire rape acreage to conventional varieties for 2019-20 – sticking with Campus and bringing in two newcomers to the line-up, Aspire and Acacia, both of which offer turnip yellows virus resistance.

These have replaced Elgar and Django, which served the farm well.

“Having looked at local performance and seed costs, we aren’t growing any hybrids this year.

“Clearfield varieties have had a strategic place on the farm, but this year’s crop isn’t being grown on land with a charlock problem,” he says.

Where possible, he uses farm-saved seed without a seed dressing, drilled at fairly high seed rates.

Purchased seed of new varieties came already treated with thiram and manganese.

All of this year’s 300ha of rapeseed was drilled in the last two weeks of August and has established well, with no damage from pests to date.

He has continued with his strategy of subsoiling, disc tilling to produce a fine tilth and then tine drilling, concentrating on producing a good seed-bed and drilling into moisture.

“It came through quickly and isn’t giving us any worries.

“Fortunately, flea beetle numbers have always been low in this area,” he adds.

Starter fertiliser
Slug pellets haven’t been used yet, with rolling after drilling preferred as the first defence.

A polymer-coated starter fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphorous and boron went on at drilling, as it has in previous years.

A graminicide was applied in mid-September for volunteer control and the use of a precautionary pyrethroid was done on a field-by-field basis, only where flea beetle damage was seen.

Pre-emergence herbicides aren’t used, while post-emergence herbicide decisions are made according to individual field requirements.

Biostimulant use 
A trial with biostimulants supplied by Yara on rapeseed last year proved inconclusive, as he made two applications of biostimulants to the crop, in line with the product recommendations, but didn’t see a yield result.

“We will probably try them again on rapeseed, as well as other crops, but they are an additional expense rather than a replacement.

“For now, the jury is still out,” he says.

He remains committed to oilseed rape and points out that he is getting a very good net margin from the crop – something he aims for across the whole farm.

“It is really holding its own.

“We have stretched the rotation and concentrated on good seed-beds and detailed agronomy,” he adds.

Sponsor’s message

Corteva Agriscience is delighted once again to be official sponsor of OSR Masters in 2019.

Corteva Agriscience has a rich tradition of oilseed rape innovation through its heritage companies, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Crop Protection and Pioneer Seeds.

By inviting ideas from a wide variety of sources and with our own tradition of proven oilseed rape products – such as Astrokerb, Kerb Flo 500 and PT256, combined with a rich pipeline of breakthrough products such as the soon to be launched Belkar herbicide and the first Clearfield variety on the Recommended List, PT279CL – Corteva Agriscience believes UK oilseed rape growers will meet short-term challenges and see great potential in the oilseed rape crop going forward.

Thanks to Corteva Agriscience for its sponsorship, which enables us to run OSR Masters. Farmers Weekly had full editorial control of this report.