A better break crop option than beans or winter oats. That’s the view of independent agronomist Bryce Rham on winter linseed, having looked after 100ha of the crop on his client’s farms throughout the growing season.
“The experience has been good, even after such a hard winter,” he says. “And while it isn’t a major crop and it can’t beat oilseed rape on margin, it does have a place.”
Benefits over rape include lower growing costs and fewer pest problems, he says. “It doesn’t attract slugs and there have been no major issues with pigeons to date.”
Three of the four growers involved in 2011 will be growing it again, he reports. “They had various reasons for trying winter linseed and in all cases it replaced oilseed rape. Either the club root threat, a runch problem, metazachlor use restrictions or a very tight rotation meant they needed to find an alternative.”
Harvesting on all the farms was completed by the first week in August, with yields ranging from 3.09-3.46/ha. “As with all crops this season, these were higher than expected. And with the exception of one farm, combining proved straightforward.”
Mr Rham believes it is essential to put a new knife in before combining the crop. “It’s also worth checking with your combine manufacturer for any recommended modifications before you start.”
The straw can be chopped or baled, he says, although chopping means you can’t min-till afterwards. “You have to plough. So if that’s a problem, you need someone to buy the straw. It’s worth £10-15/acre.”
He adds that the agronomy of the crop isn’t too difficult, despite most agrochemicals being applied under specified off-label approvals (SOLAs), but reveals his challenge for this coming year is to simplify autumn applications, as there were numerous passes made to avoid tank mixing problems.
“I will try more tank mixing this season, as we were going backwards and forwards,” he says. “The plan is to use Defy pre-emergence, followed by Lexus in the first or second week of October and Chekker in the spring. With this programme, weed control is good, although poppies can be a weakness.”
The most important consideration with herbicides is not to use any that will check the crop, he explains. “The key is to avoid any harvest delays.”
Disease control was covered by an autumn application of Plover, followed by Folicur in March and either Folicur/Filan or Caramba/Filan at mid-flowering. Reglone was applied two weeks before harvesting, with no lodging occurring at all.
Compared with oilseed rape, spray costs were about £40/ha cheaper at £100/ha, while nitrogen use was lower at 100-110kg of N, instead of 180-200kg, he calculates.
Mr Rham points out that sowing conditions were ideal last autumn. “You must roll the crop in and it needs to be in the ground by 7 September. So aim for the end of August and budget on achieving a yield of 1.1-1.2t/acre.”
**Panel** Grower experiences
Farmers Weekly‘s western barometer grower, Peter Sands, managed to get 1.26t/ha from his crop of winter linseed this year.
Combining was unexpectedly easy, with no problems or blockages encountered and harvest completed by the end of the first week of August.
However, the decision to chop the straw has had implications. “It took a great deal of power. It also means that we can’t shallow cultivate and have been forced into ploughing.”
This coming year’s winter linseed crop will be grown on a block of land away from the main farm, he says. “It had oilseed rape on it and was really hit by pigeons last spring. So it will be interesting to see if the pigeons cause any problems in linseed. To date, we haven’t had any issues.”
Devon grower Jerry Sanders had 24ha of winter linseed this year and his only complaint was the lack of rainfall.
“We grew it as a break after winter wheat on light soil,” he says. “It was direct drilled, which worked well, and it withstood the cold winter better than we expected.”
He adds that the crop was cheap to grow, with no weed problems. “It’s a nice, clean entry to the next crop and we’re hoping that it’s had a good effect on soil structure.”
He combined the crop in late July at 7.6% moisture. “There wasn’t any wrapping or stopping. With a bit more rain, it could do even better. It fits into our rotation well.”
Defy – prosulfocarb
Lexus – flupyrsulfuron
Chekker – amidosulfuron and iodosulfuron
Plover – difenoconazole
Filan – boscalid
Caramba – metconazole
Reglone – diquat