There’s no getting away from the fact that oilseed rape has been on a rollercoaster ride for a number of years now.
A mainstay of the arable rotation, it is still hard to process the immense impact that the loss of a seed treatment – and subsequent rise of the flea beetle – has had on the UK crop.
But farming is a resilient industry, and oilseed rape’s green shoots of recovery have been evident for the past two seasons.
Of course, we still have a way to go to get back to the planted areas of old – 750,000ha a decade ago, and over 500,000ha just five years ago. Autumn drilling of oilseed rape for 2021 is estimated at 367,000ha, with the planted area likely to increase further to 450,000ha in 2022, according to industry forecasts.
So where has this resurgence come from? From my perspective there are a number of forces at play; buoyant market demand, strong farmgate prices, and a suite of new products.
The post-emergence herbicide, Belkar® – highly effective against key weeds – has been a game-changer for farmers by removing the need to invest up-front in pre-emergence weed control. Instead, the product allows growers to wait until a crop has established before deciding on their investment.
Other approaches to establishment, such as intercropping, and using manures or digestate to distract the flea beetle have helped growers to cope. Combined with oilseed rape prices increasing and demand from crushers on the up, growers have had the confidence to return to the crop.
Then, of course, comes the advance in seed-breeding technology, with Pioneer Protector® Sclerotinia PT303 being a case-in-point.
The three years of testing for our hybrid winter OSR variety coincided with the worst years for cabbage stem flea beetle infestation. So, we know that even in the most trying of conditions, PT303’s early vigour and tall stem can help the plant grow promptly, up and away from disease. This can be seen in our trials, which demonstrated that when sclerotinia infection is at 25% or above, the severity of the disease in PT303 is reduced by up to 75%.
With an armoury of innovative establishment techniques combined with growing demand and an increase in improved genetics, there is reason to be optimistic about the performance of oilseed rape in 2022 and beyond.