Win­ter oilseed rape has big po­ten­tial to become the cor­ner­stone of a good crop ro­ta­tion strat­egy

Irish Independent - Farming - - OUR FARM - Ciaran Collins

Ev­ery year after the dust has set­tled on the har­vest, Tea­gasc pub­lishes its Har­vest Re­port. The yields re­ported are cal­cu­lated after con­sul­ta­tion with farm­ers, ad­vi­sors, dis­cus­sion groups and grain mer­chants na­tion­wide.

While yields vary from year to year, the one con­stant is that farms with good ro­ta­tions record sig­nif­i­cantly higher crop yields than hold­ings where lit­tle or no ro­ta­tion is prac­tised.

While this can hardly be re­garded as a ground-breaking dis­cov­ery, it re­in­forces the need for re­silient ro­ta­tions to im­prove our soils, yields and over­all prof­itabil­ity.

It is im­por­tant that ev­ery crop con­trib­utes to the bottom line in its own right, but prof­itabil­ity should be viewed over the du­ra­tion of the ro­ta­tion and not just in any one crop.

Tea­gasc re­search has shown that ro­ta­tions can im­prove prof­itabil­ity by in­creas­ing ce­real yields (by up to 1.5t/ ha following break crops over con­tin­u­ous wheat) and de­creas­ing in­put costs.

Ro­ta­tions also re­duce re­sis­tance to plant pro­tec­tion products.

We farm in an era where there is in­creas­ing pres­sure from con­sumers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to re­duce inputs.

A cor­ner­stone of the Euro­pean Green Deal is the ‘From Farm to Fork’ strat­egy which pro­poses a 50pc re­duc­tion in pes­ti­cides and a 20pc re­duc­tion in fer­tiliser by 2030. Good ro­ta­tions will con­trib­ute to this.

Win­ter Oilseed Rape

Win­ter oilseed rape is a very suit­able crop for arable ro­ta­tions and has large scope to in­crease from its cur­rent area sown of 8,500ha.

The area of win­ter oilseed rape grown has re­mained rel­a­tively sta­ble in re­cent years. The mar­ket is di­verse, with rape meal used for an­i­mal feed, oil for biodiesel, High Eru­cic Acid Rape (HEAR) for spe­cialised mar­kets and food grade oil.

While much of the oilseed rape pro­duced in Ire­land is ex­ported, the price in re­cent years has re­mained con­sis­tent and less vari­able than ce­re­als.

Oilseed rape pro­vides an ideal op­por­tu­nity to for­ward­sell a por­tion of the har­vest at sow­ing as most buy­ers will offer con­tracts.

When tar­get yields are achieved, win­ter oilseed rape is more prof­itable than spring feed bar­ley in the Tea­gasc Crops Costs and Re­turns mea­sure, notwith­stand­ing the ad­di­tional yield from the suc­ceed­ing crops.

Timely sow­ing is cru­cial for suc­cess­ful estab­lish­ment of win­ter oilseed rape.

The sow­ing window from mid-Au­gust to early September co­in­cides with a busy har­vest pe­riod, but suc­cess­ful oilseed rape grow­ers use bro­ken weather to prepare ground and typ­i­cally plant after win­ter bar­ley.

Re­search at Tea­gasc Oak Park on crop estab­lish­ment tri­als showed that plough­based, min-till and strip-till (in­clud­ing sub-soiler leg type) sys­tems were all ca­pa­ble of achieving high yields, although estab­lish­ment may vary.

Row widths up to 500mm or 600mm did not hin­der yield po­ten­tial in most of the tri­als but it may be sen­si­ble to in­crease seed­ing rate by 10-15pc when us­ing strip till sys­tems in wide rows.

Good estab­lish­ment is crit­i­cal for high yields and helps the crop with­stand pest (slug/pi­geon) at­tack and weed com­pe­ti­tion.

Va­ri­eties should be se­lected from the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture (DAFM) rec­om­mended list.

Va­ri­eties that per­formed well in the UK do not al­ways per­form well in Ire­land.

All too of­ten va­ri­eties are grown for one season and then dis­carded, at the grower’s ex­pense.

Va­ri­eties on the DAFM rec­om­mended list have been grown in Ir­ish con­di­tions for at least three years so grow­ers can be con­fi­dent that these va­ri­eties are re­li­able.

Ad­vances in breed­ing tech­nol­ogy means that grow­ers have ac­cess to va­ri­eties with ex­cel­lent pod­shat­ter re­sis­tance, in­creas­ing dis­ease re­sis­tance and Turnip

Yields:

When tar­get yields are achieved, win­ter oilseed rape is more prof­itable than spring feed bar­ley, according to the Tea­gasc Crops Costs and Re­turns mea­sure

Virus Yel­lows re­sis­tance.

Sow­ing rate de­pends on soil con­di­tions, but are usu­ally in the range of 50-80 seeds/m², with con­ven­tional va­ri­eties at the higher end.

There are op­tions.

Her­bi­cides

pre-and-poste­mer­gence weed con­trol

Her­bi­cide choice de­pends on what weeds are ex­pected, but cru­cially win­ter oilseed rape pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­trol dif­fi­cult grass weeds.

Clearfield (CL) va­ri­eties are hy­brid va­ri­eties that can be grown where bras­sica weeds pre­vent “nor­mal” va­ri­eties be­ing grown.

These va­ri­eties can be treated with the her­bi­cide Cleranda which will con­trol vol­un­teer oilseed rape and bras­sica weeds. Clearfield va­ri­eties are slightly lower yield­ing than con­ven­tional va­ri­eties, and be­ware of the con­trol of vol­un­teers.

As weather pat­terns are be­com­ing more un­pre­dictable, there is great com­fort in hav­ing a por­tion of the next har­vest in the ground and for­ward sold be­fore the dust set­tles on this har­vest.

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