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Winter Oilseed Rape Margins Stack Up
26/07/07

Winter oilseed rape has a positive future as the combinable crop break at Hipswell Hall, Hipswell, near Richmond.

David Peacock among his winter oilseed rape crop

David Peacock among his winter oilseed rape crop

“Of all the options, it’s the one that stacks up with an average yield of over 4.5t/ha in the last two years and an accompanying gross margin in the order of £600/ha,” according to David Peacock who manages the 200ha mainly arable unit in partnership with his father, Donald.

“Despite an extraordinary growing season, with flowering extending from Christmas through to mid May - this year’s of NK Grace is looking well, it has remained stress free and we are optimistic it is on target,” he says.

“We operate a high input high output strategy focused on exploiting yield potential. Equally we regard environmental management as vital and are ELS members,” he said.

“The farm revolves around 77ha of first wheat, so we need the best entry. Our 65ha of oilseed rape is suited to the light land we farm, and it provides that vital timeliness by fitting in best to the autumn work load.”

This year, the dominant variety grown at Hipswell Hall is NK Grace. “We go for the highest yielding varieties on the HGCA Recommended List, so we like to change them every couple of years to keep ahead. We choose NK Grace for the first time because of its high gross output of 102% combined with high oil content at 44.4%.

“We also go for the shorter types, and again NK Grace fitted the bill being an optimum biomass variety – one that’s short to medium in height, providing the opportunity for canopy management.”

Good establishment is critical to building an optimum crop and in turn, yield. “We plough and follow though with the combi-drill and roll. We believe in providing each seed with the best opportunity to go down as deep as possible in what is very light land that dries out quickly. We don’t apply any autumn nitrogen – we believe there is sufficient in the soil.”

A 220kgN/ha spring application was made in a two way in split, this year on 23 March and 16 April respectively. “The crop had come through the winter really well, and the fact the first nitrogen application was in liquid format enabled immediate take up before the drought set in.

“We made an additional third application of 20kgN/ha for the first time this season in mid May which was designed to prolong the green canopy, in particular the pods and subsequently increase the duration of seed filling.” The nitrogen was applied in liquid format using a high clearance sprayer.

Mr Peacock and his agronomist, Duncan Davison of BCS Agriculture have also attempted to improve canopy management this season by introducing Green Area Index (GAI), the ratio of green tissue area to ground area. “Better understanding of oilseed rape’s yield forming process has focused us on attempting to achieve a canopy size of 3.5 GAI post flowering in order to maximise the proportion of leaf and realise optimum pod density,” he said.

“We took pictures of the crop early in the growing season to assess its GAI and its subsequent nitrogen requirements, and the exercise has helped by taking the guess work out of nitrogen requirements.”

The Peacocks also report their oilseed rape crop to have remained remarkably clean this spring. “Despite the fact there’s been no real disease incidences, we continued to apply our standard programme as precautionary, however we did reduce our pesticide programme by one spray in late spring.”

As far as marketing arrangements are concerned, this coming season, the entire oilseed rape crop has been committed to United Oilseeds’ pool.

“It’s a marketing system which offers us safety net; the crop is traded by the co-operative throughout the year in order to get the best price for us and we really don’t think we could do any better trading it ourselves. The system also overcomes the issue of on farm storage – the crop is hauled one month after harvest.”

To the farm’s future, and David Peacock says the family adopts a flexible approach. “We believe oilseed rape is the break crop for the future, and careful choice of high yielding varieties such as NK Grace, coupled with a managed input regime will help to maximise response and realise its potential.”

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jennifer mackenzie
Article by
Jennifer MacKenzie