Linseed is currently one of the most profitable break crops with the added benefit of providing improved black grass control. That is according to Richard Elsdon of United Oilseeds, who believes growers should make space for spring linseed in their rotation to improve subsequent wheat yields and maximise break-crop profits.
Technical Manager for United Oilseeds
With a harvested area of 700,000 hectares, oilseed rape is by far the largest break crop in the UK. But for growers who are seeking an alternative cropping option, and one that reduces the build-up of diseases which can compromise subsequent wheat yields, spring linseed may offer the perfect solution.
Despite being historically used as an out-and-out break crop, oilseed rape is now profitable in its own right thanks to significant increases in commodity prices and crop values. Despite this, many growers are on a quest to find a second break crop in order to reduce the frequency of rapeseed in their rotations and to minimise the build-up of problem diseases.
In most arable situations, growers prefer to have two first wheats and two break crops in a four-year rotation. This system has largely arisen because black grass in oats and barley is becoming more difficult to control as a result of increased herbicide resistance and a reduction in the range of available herbicides.
In order to combat black grass build up, pulses have been tried as an alternative to oilseed rape. “Pulses have the attraction of fixing nitrogen but suffer from poor broadleaved weed control, low yields and relatively low returns,” explains Richard Elsdon, Technical Manager for United Oilseeds.
“Peas often clash with the harvesting of milling wheat and can inflict the most appalling damage on combines and drying systems in difficult harvesting seasons,” Mr Elsdon continues. “Beans are cheaper to grow but have a root system which does not cope well with dry seasons.”
Spring beans and some varieties of winter beans have the potential to attract a premium if they are suitable for human consumption Mr Elsdon adds, but he warns the presence of high levels of Bruchid beetle can turn a crop into one only fit for animal feed.
“Linseed is a better break crop as it can be drilled and harvested with the same equipment as oilseed rape and can be sown in the spring after black grass has been sprayed.”
Analysis of gross margins over the past two seasons has shown that linseed has come second to oilseed rape, but invariably performs better than competing break crops. This year however, spring linseed offers the highest earning potential with an estimated gross margin of £528/ha compared to spring OSR at £513/ha, white peas at £521/ha and spring beans at £459/ha (see table below).
“Another key benefit of substituting oilseed rape with linseed is that after cultivating the ground to produce three to four inches of rough tilth, the grower can let the winter weather reduce the rough ground down to a fine seedbed.
“Flushes of black grass can also be sprayed off with glyphosate during the winter to produce a clean spring seedbed. This not only addresses mounting black grass problems, but also reduces the amount of time and fuel required to prepare the ground.”
Once spring linseed has been sown there then is a range of herbicides that can be used to control both grass and broadleaved weeds. A final application of glyphosate in early to mid-August will hasten the ripening of the crop and control any remaining weeds. Subsequent wheat crops will therefore be sown into a much cleaner seedbed resulting in optimum yields.
“This, and the fact that linseed is not related to any other arable crop, means that growers who elect to break their rotation with linseed can do so without compromising profits and with the added benefit of improving black grass control,” Mr Elsdon concludes.
Estimated gross margins for spring crops – harvest 2012
Data source: John Nix Farm Management Pocketbook (crop & variable costs adjusted in line with recent market movements).
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