20 June 1998



ITS tempting fate – but here goes. Many crops of oilseed rape look fantastic.

Its been a good year so far. Establishment was a doddle compared with 1996. And plants which had raced away during the mild winter managed to escape late frost damage to come through into spring as tall as saplings.

The crop has made good use of the wet April. It has produced what some experts reckon is a record number of pods. Fingers crossed, but with enough water to see the crop through pod fill, we could be looking at a record rape crop.

Threats from disease have in the main evaporated. Although phoma leaf spot was noticeable in the autumn, the disease appears to have subsided and stem symptoms arent as numerous as might have been expected. Wet weather at flowering brought a sclerotinia scare – but thats all it was, just a scare.

Nationally, about a fifth of the oilseed rape area is down to hybrid varieties which pushes up the potential for yield still higher.

Predicting the final tonnage from the oilseed rape harvest is a notoriously difficult task – the crop has the capacity to take even the plant physiologists completely by surprise – but if rape does turn up trumps this harvest, then might it be a record crop? Perhaps.

Returns are also looking good. Unlike cereals, oilseed prices are holding up. And with wheat trailing at £70/t, it doesnt take a genius to spot that one tonne of rape is now roughly equivalent to two tonnes of wheat. But rape is one heck of a lot cheaper to grow.

True, area aid has been nibbled away by penalty overshoot deductions and the strong green pound. But rape margins look as though they could be £50/ha (£20/acre) or so ahead of wheat this harvest.

Winter linseed may do even better. If the crop can be persuaded to deliver in a yield of 2.5t/ha (1t/acre), growers can expect returns of £80/ha (£32/acre) above that from first wheats, according to one breeder of winter linseed.

Thats the good news for now; in its current form, Agenda 2000 will pull the rug from winter linseed by eliminating the higher support payment. It will also eat into oilseed rape profitability.

But the Agenda 2000 proposals face much discussion before they are set in place. A lot could change in the meantime.

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