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    Early Maturing OSR Offers Seven-Day Harvesting Advantage
11/05/06

Some modern oilseed rape varieties mature seven days earlier than most and up to two weeks ahead of others, according to the latest evidence from Masstock's national Best of British Oilseeds initiative.

oilseed rape

Very much like Soissons, which has long been valued amongst wheats as an early entry for oilseed rape, such varieties offer major commercial advantages for UK growers, allowing them to start their OSR harvest earlier, reduce their overall harvest risk and create extra time for critical cultivations and weed control ahead of their wheat establishment.

"HGCA Recommended List earliness of maturity ratings have always shown clear varietal differences," explains Masstock SMART Farm and R&D manager, David Langton. "But the extent of these differences and the management opportunities they offer growers has only really become apparent through our recent oilseed rape performance improvement studies and demonstrations with the latest varieties.

"While the bulk of currently recommended varieties mature at around the same time as Winner (rated 6 on the RL), the only modern variety rated 7 for earliness, Excalibur stood out as being ready to harvest a week earlier than the standard in trials at both our Brackley SMART Farm in Northampton and Brotherton in Yorkshire last year," he reports. "And this while flowering at around the same time as it and significantly outyielding it."

Clearly the RL ratings, based on 1-9 scoring of the senescing canopy just ahead of swathing or desiccation (where 1 is green and pliable and 9 is bleached and brittle) do not tell the whole story as far as earliness is concerned. After all, depending on conditions, it takes between 10 days and three weeks for crops to move through this range of maturation, implying that each score represents between one and three days.

"Our work shows that the difference in actual harvesting date between a single RL earliness score could be as much as seven days," David Langton points out. "So including an early maturing variety like Excalibur in the cropping mix could make all the difference for many growers.

"Starting the harvest a week earlier would really help relieve the pressure on men and machines," he stresses. "It would allow the OSR harvest to be better spread, reducing weather risk. It would improve the timeliness of subsequent wheat harvesting. And, most importantly, it would give more time for better grass weed and volunteer control as well as seedbed preparation ahead of the next wheat crop.

"Growers in the north of England and Scotland are likely to welcome this attribute even more than most, with the relative lateness of their season and their particular vulnerability to poor autumn weather; especially so in the light of what happened to later maturing crops in the rain-blighted harvest of 2004.

"Naturally, relatively early maturity also needs to be combined with relatively early flowering in a variety to ensure yields are not compromised by a reduction in the grain fill period," adds David Langton.

Masstock is convinced its identification of varieties with particular early maturing strengths will be especially valuable commercially with the continued trend towards increasing acreages while decreasing both combine and staff numbers.

The company also believes its work on oilseed rape maturity could have important implications for relatively later maturing OSRs, pointing out that no less than seven currently recommended varieties have an earliness score of 5 or less.

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