Swing to spring cropping after rapeseed area falls

More than half of growers are set to drill more spring crops this season to help cope with blackgrass and also improve cashflows and workloads, according to a Farmers Weekly survey.

Some 58% of respondents say they will increase their area of spring crops this season largely to cover a hole in their cropping caused by the sharp fall in autumn-drilled oilseed rape.

The big beneficiaries will be spring barley, beans and wheat with the seed trade gearing up to supply the increased seed demand over the next few months.

A wet autumn and early winter curtailed the late sowing of many winter cereals as growers put their drills away and decide to wait for drier weather in the spring.

Spring cropping poll

Some 30% of respondents say their spring cropping will stay the same as last year and only 12% say they will be reducing their spring-sown crops, in the online survey of 124 arable growers.

See also: Which spring crops to grow in 2016 for highest return?

Seed traders say demand for spring seed has been delayed by the wet conditions, but they expect this to pick up as soils dry out.

“The level of interest is spread across all three spring crops – wheat, barley and beans,” says David Waite, northern seeds manager at distribution and agronomy group Frontier.

He is seeing increased demand for spring wheat, is expecting good interest in beans while the rise in spring barley may be tempered by fears of oversupply and shrinking malting premiums.

Barry Barker, national arable seeds product manager at Agrii, agrees the spring wheat area could well rise although the much larger spring barley crop could take up a lot of the spare land.

“Spring wheat could be a more natural fit in the east side of the country than barley for those already growing a lot of winter wheat,” he says.

Spring barley and pulses

An AHDB Early Bird survey last November suggested most of the shortfall from the lower oilseed rape crop would be taken up by spring barley and pulses, while it saw evidence of a rise in spring wheat.

This survey suggested the spring barley area could rise 10% to 727,000ha, while Mr Barker says his best estimate for this spring is for a 5-7% increase.

He says the leading spring barley malting variety Propino is likely to take 40-45% of the certified seed market while there is rising interest in newer malting varieties such as Planet and Irina.

Mr Barker does not anticipate a big upturn in demand for spring bean seed as there is still plenty of beans on farm after a big harvest in 2015.

Experts say growers should gain from the other advantages of spring crops including lower inputs and improved cashflow by tying up investment for a shorter period than for winter-sown crops.

One grower who took the plunge into spring cropping is Farmers Weekly Farmer Focus writer Will Howe who moved three-quarters of his Lincolnshire farm to spring-sown crops in early 2014.

His major reason was blackgrass. After late drilling all his winter wheat in the autumn of 2013 he saw the grassweed take over his crops which had to be abandoned in favour of spring crops.

“The move to spring crops has worked and I struggle to see any good reason to grow winter wheat,” he says.

Mr Howe adds that spring drilling has advantages for his essentially “one-man band” operation by allowing him to focus on drilling and not be distracted by the spring spraying of autumn-sown crops.

This season he is growing 75% spring barley and most of the rest is in spring beans on his medium to heavy land at Ewerby Thorpe Farm, near Sleaford.

He adds the biggest risk for him is putting in a crop riddled with blackgrass rather than worrying about getting a crop in the ground in the spring.

Early Bird Survey for harvest 2016


Harvest 2016 (in 1,000s of ha)


All wheat



Winter barley



Spring barley






Other cereals



Oilseed rape



Other oilseeds






Arable fallow



Other crops






Source: AHDB/Andersons