As featured in Arable Farming Magazine

HOLL rapeseed adding value for Norfolk business

by Arable Farming Magazine OSR May 2021 issue

HOLL oilseed rape has been a part of the Ross family’s north Norfolk arable rotation at Canister Hall Farm near Walsingham for the past 16 years.

The £30/tonne premium HOLL rapeseed currently attracts on top of all bonuses is clearly less significant than it used it be, with rapeseed values at well over £600/t for the coming harvest.

But with today’s HOLL hybrids having all the agronomic strengths and as much yield potential as leading ‘double low’ varieties, Andrew Ross sees no reason to stop growing it.

All the more so as he has never failed to secure his ADM contract’s oil specification and certainly doesn’t foresee the market staying as strong as it currently is forever.

He says: “We only started growing OSR in 2007 to give more flexibility and breadth to our cereal and sugar beet-based rotation.

“This coincided with the arrival of the first HOLL variety, Splendor.

So, it was the perfect choice on our virgin ground.

Since then, we’ve grown a succession of Vistive hybrids, culminating in V367OL this season.

“The real performance breakthrough came with V316OL which went in straight at the top of the RL.

Then we saw pod shatter resistance in the varieties for the first time.

This is a trait we would never be without now as it allows us to hold off on desiccation to maximise our output without the risk of serious seed loss” Andrew and his cousin Stuart run the 590-hectare arable business at Canister Hall and several other nearby farms with one full-time staff member.

They grow around 60 hectares of oilseed rape annually, wherever possible after winter barley.

With vining peas also added to their rotation, OSR is typically grown once every six or seven years.

Pressure Although yet to lose a crop to cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB), significant pressure from the pest has prompted the W.J.F.Ross team to bring oilseed rape sowing forward from the third to the second week of August.

This season the value of earlier sowing – and having winter barley to enable it – was really underlined when spring barley harvesting delays meant some of the crop could not be sown until the end of the month.

“Flea beetle pressures were generally lower last autumn,” says Andrew.

“Even so our later-sown rape was so badly attacked we feared it might not make it.

While the hybrid’s early get-up-and-go and decent establishment conditions got the crop through, it has remained well behind our earlier-sown ground and much more patchy.

“Unlike the earlier-sown area which went into flowering well-structured, even and full of potential, we’re unlikely to get 4t/ha from it.

The real difference here has been winter barley.

Even after baling the straw, which we swap for muck with a neighbour, having it in the rotation means we can be sure of getting our OSR in early enough.”

Sowing the crop into reasonably long barley stubble in a single pass behind the legs of a Cousins Patriot stubble cultivator means the family lose as little moisture as possible while lifting sandy loam soils which have a tendency to pack down fairly hard.

Following up with a Cambridge roll gives extra moisture conservation and the best seed to soil contact.

Having found DAP applied ahead of sowing was displaced away from the rows by the Patriot’s legs, they now use their Landquip self-propelled sprayer to target the permitted 30kg N/ ha post-drilling.

Surprising “It’s surprising how much moisture our soils can retain under a cereal even when the surface is dry.

Apart from anything else, sowing our rape early ensures we make the most of this by leaving the soil bare for the least possible time,” says Andrew.

“We are reducing tillage as much as we can and growing oat and vetch Mid-Tier Stewardship cover crops ahead of our spring crops, as well as regularly applying farmyard manure.

All of which is really helping the OSR by improving our ground’s structure, its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity.”

In addition to a wide rotation, earlier sowing and good moisture preservation, keeping sowing rate down to around 40 seeds/sq.m is another important element in the family’s OSR recipe.

That way, even in a very growy season, they get strong-stemmed stands with enough space to make the most of their HOLL hybrids’ branching abilities.

They are also meticulous in their crop care to get their OSR through to flowering with the most productive canopies.

This includes three splits of spring nitrogen with sulphur, timely autumn and stem extension fungicide applications with extra manganese and getting out with the gas guns as early as October for determined pigeon defence.

“Alongside sugar beet, spring barley and vining peas, oilseed rape is valuable in our zero-tolerance approach to black-grass,” adds Andrew.

“We have to be on our toes, though, as it’s too easy for the weed to escape notice under the canopy.

“As a rule, we follow-up a robust pre-em with clethodim in mid-October to hold any black-grass back so we don’t have to go in too early with the propyzamide.

With the much milder winters we’re getting, Kerb in mid-December is giving us much better results than earlier applications.

“Not drilling wheat on ground with black-grass concerns until mid-October gives us time for a stale seedbed after the OSR if we need it, too.”

Useful addition While it has never been the least stressful crop to grow, Andrew continues to find oilseed rape, in general, and HOLL, in particular, a really useful addition to the rotation.

At current rapeseed values, he is especially pleased to have stuck with it despite CSFB.

With commodity markets as volatile as they have become, he and his cousin also appreciate the extra assurance of contract-growing a crop which consistently delivers them a premium.

Even if the season prevents their OSR doing more than 3.5t/ha, the 65ha they currently have in the ground is worth almost £7,000 more than ordinary rapeseed under their current HOLL contract.

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2022-06-15T15:20:21+01:00June 15th, 2022|Blog Post|
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