Yen Winner’s Top Tips on How to Grow a 7.0t/ha Plus Crop of Oilseed Rape

Winner of the 2019 Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) Gold Award, Richard Budd discusses how he gets the best performance from oilseed rape.

Whilst many oilseed rape growers seem to always be chasing the ‘next best thing’, if something works well then you should stick with it, believes Kent grower Richard Budd.

It’s a philosophy that has certainly delivered results with his crop of the conventional variety Campus achieving 7.19t/ha, representing 85% of its theoretical potential of 8.4t/ha, winning the YEN Gold Award in the ‘Best Field Yield’ category in 2019.

OSR remains a staple for the busines with the five-year yield average being 5.0 to 5.5t/ha, but balancing variety, cultivation method and drilling date is key, Richard says.

“Oilseed rape used to be grown here one year in five, but we have extended that to one in seven because anything less causes a drop-off in yield and increases the incidence of blackgrass.

“After the wet autumn of 2013 and the banning of neonicotinoid insecticide seed dressings on oilseed rape in December that year we switched from a min-till cultivation system to strip seeding.

“We also started drilling later, because experience had shown that when sowing during the third week of August about 25% of the crop failed and had to be redrilled.

“That became apparent almost by accident after oilseed rape drilling was delayed due to a crop of spring oats being harvested very late. It was 21 September before the oilseed rape went in, but it yielded 5.6t/ha.

“Since we began drilling later we’ve not had a single crop failure. We try to sow just after rain or when rain is due so there is enough moisture in the soil to allow the seed to grow away rapidly.

The aim is to establish 100 plants/m2 as this produces a crop with enough canopy to outcompete weeds and deliver high yields, he explains.

“Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle is our primary concern and delaying drilling until the third week of September helps with that. Over the last few years we have missed the peak influx and this season we have seen virtually none.

“There are no other particular pest or disease issues and in most cases a standard fungicide programme is sufficient.

“Our aim is grow oilseed rape as cheaply as possible, so even for the crop which won the YEN Award variable costs were under £300/ha, including £120/ha for seed and fertiliser and £157 for crop protection products.

“Machinery costs added just under £200/ha, including cultivations, drilling, spraying, fertiliser spreading and combining.”

Variety Choice Key

The variety Campus has been the mainstay of the oilseed rape production in recent years and has always done well, he says.

“This is our fifth season with Campus and it has always performed well. It is extremely vigorous, gets away well in the autumn, has no real disease issues and consistently delivers high yields.

“This season’s winter oilseed rape went in from 20 to 25 September, with most of the Campus, which accounts for over 60% this season, drilled on the 23rd or 24th.

“Much of it didn’t germinate until October, which was slightly worrying, but by January we had complete ground cover then after the Nitrogen and Sulphur kicked in it really moved on and overall was very clean throughout the season.”

Much of our oilseed rape area is drilled with home-saved and cleaned seed rather than certified hybrid or conventional seed to reduce the financial risk in the event of crop failure, Richard explains.

“Apart from cost, for me a major issue with hybrid varieties is that their low seed rates and plant populations produce a sparse canopy and insufficient ground cover.

“That can allow blackgrass to become well established so chemicals are less effective and populations can build up.

“An open canopy also increases the risk of pigeon damage, which further reduces ground cover and allows blackgrass to gain more of a foothold.”

The 2019/20 season has certainly been much challenging in every respect, Richard says.

“By the end of October only 35% of our winter crop area had been drilled, compared with 90-95% in a normal year, and after that it was too wet to do anything.

“Spring crops are normally in by the end of March, but it rained heavily until the end of the month and we didn’t finish drilling spring crops until 15 April, but patience is the key with direct drilling because conditions have to be right.”

Award Winning Crop

The crop of Campus which won the 2019 YEN Gold Award looked very promising throughout the season, Richard recalls.

It was drilled on 14 September into Grade 2 silty, sandy clay loam at a relatively high seedrate of 7.5kg/ha, received DAP to provide 30kg/ha of NItrogen and phosphate, while autumn herbicides consisted of Centurion® Max (clethodim), followed by Kerb® (propyzamide) plus fungicide in the form of prothioconazole.

At the end of February, Richard applied 50kg of Nitrogen plus Sulphur, while in mid-March the crop received another 50kg/ha of Nitrogen, with a further 100kg/ha applied in the form of urea in early April, giving a total Nitrogen of 230kg/ha, including the DAP.

Various trials have been conducted on the farm with liquid fertilser to determine the impact of a late application at pod fill, but no benefits have been seen from that approach.

Caryx® (mepiquat chloride + metconazole) fungicide was applied to the crop at stem extension along with Brassitrel Pro, a multiple micronutrient fertiliser containing magnesium, manganese, boron and molybdenum, followed by Toledo® (tebuconazole) plus Brassitrel Pro at the green bud stage.

At flowering, the crop received Pictor® (boscalid + dimoxystrobin), and pre-harvest Glyphosate plus Pod-Stik to reduce pod shatter.

The winter and spring were fairly dry, but from then on the crop benefitted from an extraordinary amount of sunshine and rain at just the right time to keep it growing.

Significant rain at the start of May and again in June meant that an above average yield was always on the cards, Richard believes.

“The thing which can really hit olseed rape’s yield potential in this area is a front of warm air coming up from France and Spain late in the growing season, at the end of June or in early July.

“We didn’t get that in 2019 and the extra 10 days that the crop remained green made a huge difference to its’ ultimate yield.

“The field where we grew the award-winning crop hadn’t had oilseed rape for ten years, which certainly helped, but we were very pleased with 7.19t/ha and the average for the whole block of Campus was 6t/ha.”