Expert tips on the best break crops

28 December 2001

Expert tips on the best break crops

Rotation requirements tend

to dictate whether a cereal

or break crop is the best bet

for spring cropping. Here,

Suzie Horne asks industry

experts how the different

combinable breaks measure up

IN terms of simplicity and margin, spring beans are hard to beat when it comes to sowing a break crop.

Five out of six companies asked predicted beans to bring in the best gross margin among the spring combinable breaks in 2002. The crop also scored highly in our poll of other factors to consider (see tables).

"But watch out for a late harvest date," warns Mark Hall, of Strutt and Parker, Chelmsford.

Strutt and Parker aims to keep first wheats as close to 50% as possible and spring break crops play a useful part. "They offer a considerable saving in workload and are relatively cheap to grow," says Mr Hall.

"Of all the true break crops, peas are probably preferable where there is a good record of growing the crop. But it is difficult to introduce that management skill, they are higher up the hassle factor list and can clash on combining."

Pea producers should choose varieties carefully, he advises. Human consumption peas tend to be shorter, they lodge more readily and the premium often fails to compensate for loss of yield.

"You need between £50 and £60/t premium to justify it – this season it has been £30 and £35/t.

"We will be growing peas on the right land, where it is relatively level and there is the knowledge that they will go in in good conditions in March/early April. Feed peas on seed contracts can also be quite lucrative."

Of other possible crops, soya would be quite exciting but for the problem of a late harvest date and the added cost of an inoculum which needs to be applied to the seed for the plant to fix its own nitrogen, says Mr Hall.

ADAS Gleadthorpe principal consultant Andy Wells also recommends pulses, preferably beans, for a spring break crop. "They will not clash with wheat combining as peas are prone to do."

Growers with acceptable home-grown seed available could improve on the margins in the table, he adds.

Margins on other crops may look competitive, but agronomy on newer crops like soya and lupins is still being developed. Variable costs, notably seed, are relatively high and there are fewer options for weed control so the risk factor is higher too, says Mr Wells.

"Hemp is interesting," he adds. "My gross margin includes the cost of mowing and baling. This is the latest of the spring sown crops. Besides the fertiliser, it is virtually organic, so could serve a purpose for those looking at conversion."

When weighing up the options for spring cropping, do not overlook storage considerations, says Mr Wells. Spring oilseed rapes margin may not look exciting, but it can fit in better than other options if you have limited storage and are already growing winter rape.

However, Andrew Mason, of Sentry Farming, says there will be no call for spring oilseed rape this year, as normal service is resumed with spring break crops going on to land planned for them rather than rushed into ground that could not be sown in autumn.

On hemp, he warns that gross margins do not give the full picture. Harvesting cost can be horrendous though inputs are low. "There is a good market – they are desperate for it – but you have to get contractors in to swath it. One of our crops had to be turned eight times."

Lupins are back in the frame in some circumstances, but can be difficult to dry and soyas late harvest is off-putting. However, a 2001 seed crop produced an acceptable margin, he adds.

Beans come out top in Dalgety Arables margin calculations, but the balance may swing back in favour of peas, believes the firms Barry Barker. Those choosing beans should get at least a proportion of their crop protected on a contract.

"Watch out for Bruchid beetle standards because some contracts are at 1%, some 3%." Export demand to the Middle East is less certain since Sept 11, he adds. &#42

Crop osr osr2 beans peas Linseed Linseed2 Soya Lupins Hemp Set-aside

Strutt and Parker 459 – 524 510 310 – 345 – – 225

Sentry – – 471 455 – – 467* 478 498 210

Dalgety 329 309 449 410 237 223 – – – 189

Andersons 419 371 438 429 – – – – – 214

ADAS 405 – 489 448 339 – 446 423 475 210

SAC** 336 – 430 376 172 – – – – 203

*Seed contract. **Based on non-LFAs. Osr 2/linseed 2 = industrial contracts.

Variety Yield rating

Meli (G) 103

Quattro (G) 101

Lobo (G) 101

Mars (G) 100

Victor (S) 97

Alpine (S) 92

Maris Bead (S) 85

Compass (PG) 101

Maya (O) 102

Picadilly (O) 101

Avon (O) 90

&#8226 Beans for simplicity.

&#8226 Peas for specialists.

&#8226 Beware premium promises.

&#8226 Hemp harvest hassle history.

OSRtop in Scotland

Contrary to comments coming from south of the border, oilseed rape holds its place as first choice combinable spring break in Scotland, says Elaine Booth of SACs agronomy department.

"Growers will sow swede rape earlier and then change to turnip rape, which is two to three weeks earlier to mature. Drought at establishment can be a problem, but weed control is relatively straightforward and you might get away without any weed control, or possibly just trifluralin."

While peas and beans both offer higher gross margins, they are much riskier crops, she says.

"Combining beans will be grown on a small early area, mainly on south facing slopes. Peas are also risky because of their tendency to be weak strawed. Linseed is a contender, but the big problem is its late harvest."

What will be in the drill this spring? When it comes to a break crop, spring beans are hard to beat in England, but spring oilseed rape has a strong place in Scotland, says SACs Elaine Booth (above).

osr Beans Peas Linseed Soya

England and Wales

Sowing date flexibility 2.8 3 3.6 3 2.3

Ease of establishment 2.8 4.4 3.8 2.7 2.7

Weed control 3.3 3.2 3.6 4.7 2.7

Disease resistance 2.8 3 2.8 3.5 3.5

Pest tolerance 3 3.4 2.8 2.7 4

Input costs 3.5 4.2 3.2 3.7 2

Management required 3 4 2.8 3.7 2.5

Harvest date 2.8 2.8 4 1.7 1

Hassle factor 3.3 4 3.6 2.3 2

Total (max 45) 27 35 30 28 23


Sowing date flexibility 4 3 3 3 –

Ease of establishment 4 3 3 4 –

Weed control 4 3 3 4 –

Disease resistance 4 3 3 3 –

Pest tolerance 3 4 4 4 –

Input costs 3.5 3 3 2 –

Management required 4 3 2 3 –

Harvest date 4.5 2 2 2 –

Hassle factor 4 3 2 2 –

Total (max 45) 35 27 25 27 –

Average of ratings, 1 = poor or difficult, 5 = good or easy. Input from Strutt and Parker, ADAS, Andersons, Dalgety, Sentry Farms, SAC. SAC only for Scotland.

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