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January 14, 2014

Spring OSR Surprises

Spring cropping in general and OSR in particular provided a welcome lift to Andy Hole’s arable spirits at Bradle Farm near Wareham in Dorset last year.

The spring barley that replaced much of the family partnership’s planned 200 ha of winter cereals delivered reasonably at up to 6.8 t/ha, some of it earning a malting premium despite the heavy clay ground and liberal N use. But the highlight of the harvest was undoubtedly the 8.3 ha of Ability spring rape, averaging 3.64 t/ha from late April drilling.

“We hadn’t grown spring rape for more than 10 years,” said Andy Hole. “From past experience we weren’t expecting much more than 2t/ha. Especially since it was well into April by the time the two steep, wet fields that run down to the river were fit to plough and drill.

“We were keen to get a crop in, if only for the ground’s sake. It was far too late for spring barley if we wanted anything other than cuckoo corn, though!  So, on the advice of our Agrii agronomist, Todd Jex we went for Ability spring rape, drilling it into near a perfect seedbed on April 25 th.  This and enough warmth in the soil meant it came up thick and evenly within 10 days, and went on from strength to strength.”

A good dose of Roundup before ploughing left no weeds in the seedbed, and the crop’s rapid emergence and growth ensured the greatest possible weed competition, so no herbicide was needed. A single insecticide for pollen beetle and a sclerotinia fungicide were the only agrochemicals used. Together with the seed, P and K, 145 kg N, 68 kg S and micronutrients with the fungicide spray,  the total input bill came to £358/ha.

“Despite Todd’s enthusiasm, I confess I really didn’t expect much from the crop right up to harvest,” recalled Andy. “It was still very green underneath when we combined on September 10 – mainly because I didn’t want to lose any yield by putting the sprayer through it again to desiccate. Even so, it fair flew through the combine. And it really surprised me, at least, when we brought in just under 30 tonnes from two fields. At such a modest growing cost it certainly rewarded us well.”

Convincingly out-yielding the 52 ha of winter OSR coaxed through to harvest, the spring rape proved a real confidence booster to the Bradle Farm team in a year they are happy to put behind them.

Winter rape will continue to remain their first choice wherever reasonable sowing conditions permit.  However, with the climate as variable as it is proving these days, Andy and Todd have been particularly encouraged to discover what a valuable fall back they have in the spring crop should the autumn and winter again conspire so badly against them.

“It’s good to know we can generate such good returns from oilseed rape if the autumn and winter ever prove as difficult as they were last year,” concluded Andy. “This will give us the confidence to stop drilling in September if conditions go against us rather than just keeping on regardless, more in hope than anything else.

“Incidentally, the season has also shown us how well cereal seed can keep if we ever have to hold off drilling so much of it again, “ he added. “Farm-saved and treated, and a poor sample at that, the winter wheat and barley we over-yeared germ-tested well and has come up a treat this year.”