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15 Jun 2022

Going for gold - how to grow an award-winning OSR crop

As featured in Arable Farming Magazine

Going for gold - how to grow an award-winning OSR crop

by Arable Farming Magazine OSR May 2021 issue

Lincolnshire grower Mark Stubbs has won a YEN award for his oilseed rape for the past three seasons.

Averaging yields of four tonnes per hectare, oilseed rape has always done well on Mark Stubbs 700-hectare arable unit near Louth, Lincolnshire, but since joining ADAS Yield Enhancement Network (YEN), he has been able to refine his growing technique.

In his first year entering YEN he enrolled late, applying a PGR to his YEN plot but leaving the rest of the field untreated.

This was his first lesson.

He says: That particular year I came in 13th place, but if I had submitted the area without a PGR Id have easily been in the top 10.

The information he gains from the end of season crop report has allowed him to apply greater attention to detail in growing his crop, which is evident in the awards hes won since.

In his second year of YEN Mr Stubbs won bronze; a silver award in his third year; and in 2021 he won gold in both best seed yield (gross output) with a 6.7 tonnes/ha crop and best percentage of potential seed yield at 59% of 11.3t/ha.

It just shows you can keep improving by listening to others, he says.

Ensure good seed to soil contact

Seeds are drilled at 45-55 seeds/sq.m depending on the drilling date behind a modified Discordon cultivator.

Mr Stubbs says: Were always told low disturbance but Im actually disturbing the soil quite a lot with legs and discs because I want my black-grass to germinate a bit in my OSR.

I find youve got the best chemistry to get rid of black-grass in OSR.

Ive got a packer, so any slots left by the legs are covered and we seed in between and use a double press to press it in and roll straight behind.

That seed to soil contact is really important.

He will also drill into a dry seedbed, so long as there is rain in the forecast.

He says: People always think we should go when weve got a damp seedbed, which I disagree with to an extent.

Moisture The machine we use helps to consolidate the moisture so when we go through with it were bringing up the moisture thats there and then pushing it down.

I look for rain afterwards so it is washed in.

If you enter a damp seedbed in August it will dry out and the seed just sits there.

But if you actually get it washed in, the soil can still dry out, but the moisture has gone into the seed straight away.

He thinks a plant population of 20/sq.m in February should produce a well-yielding crop.

Keep an eye on costs

People think YEN winners throw everything at the crop but Ive probably spent less than a lot of other OSR growers, Mr Stubbs says.

In his YEN crop budget, even hedgecutting is accounted for, ending on a tidy sum of £1,705/ha profit, based on a yield of 4t/ha, sold at £500/t with a £100/t bonus.

He says: Seed costs are slightly more because Im using hybrid, but normally Id go at 45 seeds/sq.m.

This crop I went at 50 seeds/sq.m because it was drilled on September 7.

However, the variety is HOLL so theres a premium added.

The main spray costs are herbicides and Mr Stubbs usually applies Centurion Max and a desiccant.

This year he applied Belkar in some crops due to the high level of broadleaved weeds.

He adds: Falcon is usually applied after spring barley or spring oats to take out volunteers, but I dont usually need it after wheat.

Utilise genetic resistance

Growing hybrids stacked with good resistance means that few fungicides need to be applied, Mr Stubbs says.

This season delivery delays and cold weather meant some crops did not receive an application of Plover (difenoconazole).

Mr Stubbs says: The crops Ive sprayed Plover on have pen nib spots of phoma.

On crops without Plover its exactly the same, so itll be interesting to see whether it was a waste of time.

Although these varieties do have phoma resistance, I am finding breakdown.

Sclerotinia control Amistar (azoxystrobin) is applied for sclerotinia control, but applications have been reduced, I used to apply it as the first flowers were on, then four weeks later, giving me an eight-week break.

Now I wait two weeks and see what the forecast is going to do.

Get crop nutrition right

Having bought fertiliser well this year, Mr Stubbs has not had to reduce rates on his OSR.

Crops receive DAP at drilling, then three applications of liquid fertiliser totalling 210kg N/ha.

He says: The first application goes on in February which is for GAI.

I put that on at 70kg N/ha.

I debated whether to cut it this year, but the pigeons have got in so Im sticking to my normal routine.

At green bud, a further 70kg N/ha is applied and at yellow bud I leave it as late as I dare and apply another 70kg N/ha.

In the past Ive put more and less on and got a negative effect from both, so I find the optimum on my farm is 210kg/ha.

His end of season YEN report provides useful insight into any areas where nutrition may be falling short.

I find boron is the key for me it is always low, but the other nutrients Im not too bad in.

Soil health is also a key focus for Mr Stubbs who regularly applies poultry and pig manure to boost soil organic matter.

Maintain oil content

Across the farm, the crops oil content ranges from 43-48%, but YEN-winning crops tend to be lower at 44-45% because of the yield dilution effect.

To try and maintain oil content, Mr Stubbs applies the last nitrogen as close to yellow bud as possible.

He says: I used to use granular and do a two-split plan, but since using liquid I find it much better plus with a sprayer Ive got higher clearance, so I can go that bit later.

Desiccation Using varieties with pod shatter resistance means desiccation is pushed as late as possible almost until the seeds are black.

Sometimes I do occasionally get the whiting from the spraying, but putting it off as long as possible gives that yield benefit.

Some people will try not to desiccate but then you get too much green stalk.

Harvesting early is convenient but I find my best yields are when oilseed rape has nearly been in the ground 365 days of the year.

All OSR is sold at harvest to aid cashflow and storage.

If the moisture content is correct, the crop goes straight to the end user.

We aim to be below 9% moisture.

Its been a struggle in recent seasons to get it above 6% because its been too dry.

Last year my average was 7.5% across the board without having to dry everything.

I find once you dry it does decrease your yield quite a lot.

Get to know your varieties

Dekalb hybrids tend to be the variety of choice for Mr Stubbs and in the last few years he has been growing DK Exclaim.

He likes to make up his own mind about varieties rather than be influenced by the market, but he has had to move onto other varieties this year due to lack of seed availability.

I always talk to breeders and see if theres a particular variety they are just trying to market more of that season or if its actually going to grow well for me.

I mainly grow DK varieties because I understand them.

Come December, they go to sleep and come February they wake up and romp on in spring.

Im growing other varieties that go to sleep later and wake up later and Im finding it difficult to understand them because I know what a DK variety will do.

Its important you understand the variety you are using.

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