Will oilseed rape become a less profitable crop under the Agenda 2000 proposals with CAP oilseed aid cut to that of cereals?
I dont think so. Plant breeders have convinced me that theres real progress in yield awaiting the rape crop. Although there needs to be another 700 to 750kg/ha (5.5-6cwt/acre) to make up for the expected drop in oilseed premium.
For the past few years, weve been averaging 3.8t/ha (1.5t/acre) and I believe that partly through hybrid breeding, and probably even more from gene technology, we will average 4.5t/ha (1.8t/acre) quite soon.
And then theres the advantage of rape as an entry crop for winter wheat.
This is often left out of calculations, but its something thats very important here where, apart from sugar beet, theres really not much else that can give the same returns in the rotation.
Not only does the rape normally mean a higher yield for the following wheat, it allows us to cut cultivation costs because, generally, we only use minimum tillage to establish cereal crops.
Current prices are also helping the general optimism about the future of the oilcrop. This year its a sellers market with rape earning over £140/t ex-farm.
Quotes for next year indicate that the situation isnt going to change for the worse. Weve been offered contracts for the equivalent of £151/t and even the contracts for non-food rape next year are £127.60/t ex-farm.
Looking at the world oilcrop market, I think theres a good chance that these relatively high prices will remain for at least a few years. Having said that, of course, we still need a lot of help from Mother Nature – and shes not being too co-operative at the moment.
Weve about 280ha (690 acres) of oilseed rape drilled, but there hasnt been any rain to speak of since the sowing – and that was finished at the beginning of September. The crop is coming through but by the second last week of September was looking fairly desiccated.
This year we have two hybrids – Pronto and Joker – in the ground. Because the earlier hybrid rapes proved unreliable to say the least, most of our oilseed area is down to tried-and-tested straight varieties Express and Mohican.
Whatever complaints there may be about the emergence of the rape, its a lot better than our winter barley.
This has also been in the ground since early September but the dry conditions mean germination has been poor. The trouble is that in this part of the continent, all barley growth really stops around the last week of October.
At the moment, it appears that the barley will be going into the winter in a pretty poor state of root development.
Theres always the possibility of just ploughing it under and resowing with winter wheat, but then theres the problem of how to kill-off the barley that does eventually survive this treatment!
All in all, we hope ploughing-in wont be necessary. Were going to stand back, give the crop a chance and pray for rain.
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