Yield is the key to oilseed rape success

With costs rising for all oilseed rape growers, Luke Casswell returns to visit an Oxfordshire farmer to see how he is looking to boost yields and cut his overall costs per tonne.

Oilseed rape grower James Price is battling higher costs of production by fine-tuning micronutrient and fertiliser applications to grow bigger yields.

His aim is to establish a healthy crop over winter and give him the potential to boost yields and so spread his costs over a bigger harvested crop.

See also: Learn about successful OSR establishment

Based on some difficult Cotswold brash soils, he has managed to increase yields slowly on his Perdiswell Farm in Oxfordshire to counter rising costs.

“Ultimately, yield is king and that is what we have got to strive for. It dilutes costs, so we need to look at every avenue to achieve a good yield,” Mr Price says.

His oilseed rape crops have battled through pest damage and drought with the majority at the 6-8 leaf stage, having received a pre-emergence herbicide and a graminicide.

Mr Price has carefully built the canopy by getting good control of weeds and using a seed-bed fertiliser. This will help reduce the amount of nitrogen needed in the spring, where he will go with three splits of 60kg/ha in February, March and April.

Farm facts

  • Location – Woodstock, Oxfordshire
  • Acres – 650ha
  • Rotation – Five-year rotation of wheat-spring barley-winter oilseed rape-wheat -beans (winter or spring)
  • Oilseed rape varieties – Incentive, Excellium, Alegria

“Our total nitrogen application is not a lot but if you get a good crop going into the winter you won’t need as much nitrogen in the spring,” he adds.

Mr Price points out that this offers the opportunity to build yield without extra expenditure on one of the most costly inputs in the crop.

“There is not a lot of room to manoeuvre on many of our costs, so anywhere we can find a saving or boost a yield is vital,” he says.

At a trial site on his farm, results have shown seed-bed fertiliser has offered savings of 10-20% by lowering the fertiliser requirement in the spring.

However, he explains there may be the opportunity to apply more fertiliser than his usual 180kg/ha, but he stresses this must show a tangible difference in yield.

The trial was set up as part of a “3×3” initiative that was launched earlier this year whereby fertiliser group Yara, agrochemical group BASF and plant breeder Monsanto joined forces to find ways to drive yield, profit and sustainability.

Micronutrients will also play a role in reaching the extra yield and helping the crop stay ahead of ever-tightening margins.

Mr Price already looks to boost the P & K indices in his soils using organic manures, with more than 6,000t being applied each year.

This year he is using soil and tissue analysis to look at key nutrients such as boron, zinc and magnesium and will apply micronutrients where necessary and while temperatures allow active growth.

“This is vital to find out if there are any underlying problems in the crop and to ensure nothing is holding it back,” he says.

Mr Price points out he will apply a micronutrient mix this autumn before signs of stress are seen.

Mark Tucker, agronomist for Yara in north-east Europe, estimates yield benefits of 3-5% can be seen by using micronutrients.

“There are still a lot of growers who will try to cut costs and micronutrients can be overlooked, but they can make a big difference overall,” Mr Tucker says.

Steve Dennis of BASF says the crop is approaching a critical time and with the weather conditions so unpredictable, growers should follow the 8-8-8 rule.

“We want eight leaves, an 8mm root collar diameter and a root depth of 8cm to ensure it is a healthy crop going into the winter,” he says.

Mr Dennis points out that early weed control has been vital to help achieve this and growers should now consider applying a plant growth regulator.

Monsanto’s Kuldip Mudhar says in the current climate, yield is paramount to make oilseed rape worthwhile and says growers are increasingly looking for yield-protecting traits, which will prove crucial going forward.

“Consistency in performance and yield-protecting traits, such as pod shatter resistance, double phoma resistance and vigorous establishment, gives confidence to the grower.