By Andy Stainthorpe, Seeds and Inoculants Manager, Pioneer
The way oilseed rape growers are experimenting with novel establishment techniques reaffirms the importance of the crop to the rotation.
We’ve seen early sowing, late sowing, companion cropping - even muck spreading to distract pests.
Results have been mixed and there is still very little data to show that one approach trumps another when it comes to getting a crop away in the autumn.
We will not find a silver bullet to perfect establishment. Circumstances will continue to vary from farm to farm, year to year, just as it has always done.
What is for sure is that while oilseed rape continues to deliver such important gross margins, farmers will be reluctant to drop it as their break crop.
There are decisions farmers can make to give themselves the best possible chance of a good start this autumn.
Selecting oilseed rape varieties that can establish quickly and outgrow pest and disease threats should be the priority.
Lodging resistance and ease of management have always been big draws, but with Pioneer’s PX131 becoming the first ever semi-dwarf to gain a listing on the AHDB’s Descriptive List, yield, oil content and disease rating is also catching the eye.
It is very much a variety for the early sower and those who want to push their oilseed rape to achieve a higher gross margin
It has a low-spreading growth habit in the autumn, and its excellent winter hardiness and high oil content will appeal to farmers who are looking to drill early.
They can expect a plant that’s about 25-30cm shorter than other hybrids and conventional types. Its branching growth habit almost eliminates the risk of lodging and enables more crop management flexibility.
The growing point in a semi-dwarf plant is situated significantly lower than in a non-dwarf hybrid or conventional variety, and its growth habit is to spread outwards rather than upwards as it establishes.
We know that some farmers have been put off shorter varieties because weeds are more visible than in a field of conventional rape. But new post-emergence herbicides like Corteva’s Belkar® have raised the bar in terms of performance and weed control options.
And yield data from small trial plots hasn’t always been as accurate as it could be. Semi-dwarfs have been discriminated against and testing protocols have failed to fully value their advantages. They often match conventional and hybrid varieties tonne for tonne.
So my view is that oilseed rape growers need to consider their whole approach.
Be innovative, have a plan and choose the best tools for the job.