Utilising a toolkit approach to combating the increasing challenges of growing OSR, Rob has been finding sheep invaluable in making the most of his early drilled crop.. This season he grazed all 11.4ha of the DK Excited he sowed for a week in mid-November.
“When our five-year rotation puts the OSR on our most fertile ground, we can end up with a worryingly over-thick and over-forward canopy by mid-November depending on the weather. Which is where the sheep have really been useful, removing almost all the foliage and with it, and we hope early disease as well as any CSFB larvae,” points out Mr Atkin. “They have also opened-up the crop nicely and provided extra manure, of course.
“It certainly took courage, and we were very careful to move them on quickly. Immediately after grazing the crop looked pretty bare – particularly one area that was taken down a little too far. Even this recovered well as the crop grew away strongly from winter, however. In fact, it probably had a better structure going into stem extension than the later-sown crops we didn’t graze. Come harvest, our yield maps will make very interesting viewing.”
Although limited by the late frosts and poor summer light levels, Mr Atkin was well-pleased with the 3.9t/ha he brought in from the DK Excited he tried for the first-time last year alongside the 3.8t/ha of his DK Exalte – itself up more than half a tonne on 2020. He sees the new hybrid’s rather less rapid speed of leaf development going into the winter together with strong disease resistance, TuYV resistance and standing power especially well-suited to earlier drilling. Its notably strong and rapid spring development is also proving just what’s needed in the wake of winter grazing.
“Rather than going for the highest yields, we want to get a consistent 4t/ha-plus from our OSR every year with the least possible risk,” he stresses. “Earlier drilling with the most suitable variety is a key part of this. Every bit as important, though, is getting the seed into moisture evenly with good seed-to-soil contact.
The Atkin’s use a Shakaerator at 6-8” and then drill to a consistent 1.5cm following sewage sludge application to ensure moisture, citing even sowing (deliberately kept down to around 40 seeds/m2) at a shallow depth key to consistent establishment. This is followed by rolling.
“The most important thing for us is to get our crops out of the blocks quickly, “insists Mr Atkins. “They also need to have the greatest get-up-and-go in the spring. As well as vigorous establishment and rapid early development, we choose our varieties for the most robust all-round strength. This includes disease resistance, standing power and pod shatter resistance so we can manage the harvest for the least weather and combining losses.
“That way we are firmly on the front foot with our management, and have the greatest flexibility to match our agronomy to whatever the season throws at us. We always like to have well-grown oilseed rape going into the winter. But we are equally conscious that having it too thick and forward coming into the spring can get in the way of developing the most efficient light-intercepting canopies as well as increasing light leaf spot pressure.
Rob finds hybrids like DK Excited are a perfect choice for growers looking to sheep graze, thanks to their superior recovery abilities and fast spring regrowth.
“With sheep in our armoury in addition to the traditional seed, fertilisation and crop protection tools, it looks like we may have a very valuable extra risk management tool.”