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Seed & Establishment

Bayer Crop Science

Planning for a flying start in North Yorkshire

Article overview

Getting oilseed rape up and away as quickly as possible is the aim of one Yorkshire grower for whom challenging conditions are the norm.

High up, looking across to the Yorkshire Wolds, the views from Sawdon Heights Farm are stunning, but conditions at 600ft above sea level can be challenging for the farm’s oilseed rape crop.

“You can’t farm a view,” reflects Andrew Dickinson with a wry smile. Nonetheless, with the help of his son Chris, who is an agronomist with Agrovista, he has developed an approach to growing OSR on the farm that sees him budgeting for a yield of up to four tonnes per hectare if all goes to plan.

The Dickinson family have farmed at Sawdon Heights, eight miles inland from Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, since 1943, with Andrew and his wife Sue taking over in 1995. An 81-hectare arable enterprise sits alongside 1500-head bed and breakfast pigs and the Dickinsons have also diversified with holiday cottages and a touring caravan site.

Soil types are free-draining medium loam over limestone, hosting a rotation which includes winter wheat, spring barley, winter barley and oilseed rape.

Oilseed rape has traditionally been grown in a 1 in 4 rotation on the farm, but the aim is to push that out to 1 in 5 with the addition of an extra crop of spring barley, says Andrew. The longer break will benefit the oilseed rape in terms of reducing pest - cabbage stem flea beetle in particular - disease and weed pressure, helping to maintain yields. Having an extra cereal in the rotation helps with utilising muck from the pig enterprise, Andrew adds.

Just over 15ha of oilseed rape were drilled last autumn, of which close to 10ha are hybrid DK Extremus and, pleasingly, all 15ha acres will make it to harvest.

‘We didn’t do quite so well last year,” recalls Andrew. “We grew Extremus last year as well, but we had a problem with cabbage stem flea beetle, which can be a tremendous problem here, and lost four acres. We ended up harvesting just over 25cwt/acre. It did okay; we were surprised to see how well it gathered up. We’ve had a bit of flea beetle damage this season, but this time the crop got away from it.”

DK Extremus grower Andrew Dickinson at Sawdon Heights Farm

With limited break crop options on the farm - winter beans have been tried in the past with disappointing results - Andrew is keen to retain oilseed rape in the rotation, despite the CSFB threat, and believes setting up the crop well from the onset is the key to success. Over time he and Chris have developed a system which while never guaranteeing a high-yielding crop of oilseed rape nonetheless gives it every opportunity possible to deliver a profitable yield.

“The trick is to get the crop away quickly and well,” maintains Andrew.

His approach is based around early drilling, so the DK Extremus is a good fit here; understanding when cabbage stem flea beetle is likely to arrive on the farm; and with the arrival of a new 3m Claydon Hybrid direct drill - made possible by a grant under Defra’s Farming Equipment and Technology Fund, - the ability to place fertiliser with the seed. The Defra grant provided funding for the fertiliser placement component of the drill, explains Andrew.

“We try to drill early,” he says. “This year’s crop went in on August 17 after winter barley. We used to aim to drill on August 20, but we’ve found that the last 10 days of August seem to be the worst for flea beetle here.

“Last autumn we placed 106kg/ha DAP fertiliser with the seed using the new drill and I think it’s the best thing we’ve done. The rape came through in seven days last autumn; it really got away well.”

Previous approaches to OSR establishment on the farm have included Autocasting behind a Sumo cultivator and ploughing and drilling with a power harrow drill combination. The plough-power harrow approach was not a good option for OSR and, while the Autocast was a step in the right direction, the aim ultimately was to reduce soil disturbance when establishing the oilseed rape, which resulted in the move to the Claydon drill.

“You are better off showing a bit of stubble, it seems to confuse the flea beetle,” says Andrew. “We drilled straight into the barley stubble. I think the fertiliser is important, but then again with oilseed rape it’s always afterwards that you learn when the best drilling window was.

“This year I think we managed to get it drilled just before the bad window for the flea beetle, which came more towards the end of August into the beginning of September.”

With son Chris overseeing agronomy, the harvest 2024 crop of Extremus was looking well in the third week of May, still flowering strongly. Cabbage stem flea beetle larvae were found in the crop in spring, but once again it was able to grow away from the damage.

DK Extremus looking full of potential at Sawdon Heights Farm, May 2024

Agronomy planning for the crop began more than a year in advance (see agronomy panel), with the aim being to give it every reason not to fail in the autumn and winter and then add value in the spring when there was more confidence in getting the crop to harvest.

Weed control this season comprised an autumn herbicide in late September in the form of Belkar (Arylex/halauxifen-methyl + picloram) for control of broad-leaved weeds, including cleavers, mayweed, groundsel and poppy, followed by an application of Kerb (propyzamide) in early December. A 27:12 N+S fertiliser was applied in spring.

“It looked good overwinter but suffered a bit in the spring when it was quite cold and wet here,” says Andrew. “Our soils are fairly free draining but because we are high up, we lose a bit of temperature, and it takes a bit longer to warm up than lower down.

“We find Extremus to be very vigorous. We’ve grown DK varieties here for a while for their vigour, and pod shatter resistance is important to us too as we do get the elements up here.

“We also find the DK varieties are resistant to disease; we find we don’t have to spray too much for phoma or light leaf spot and we will try and get away with one spray if we can, although we will go back in if we have to.”

It has been another challenging year for oilseed rape, but Sawdon Heights’ OSR looks to have plenty of potential.

“Time will tell if our efforts give us more reliable establishment,” says Andrew.

Weather permitting, the Extremus will be cut in the second week of August and, as always, the combine will have the final word.

Sawdon Heights’ OSR agronomy updates for harvest 2024

  • Claydon Drill used to place 106kg/ha DAP near the seed – placement means less fertiliser is needed

  • Diflufenican (DFF) herbicide not applied to previous winter barley because of its long half-life and potential to harm following OSR crop

  • Use of sulphonylureas avoided where possible in previous cereal

  • No pre-emergence or early season residuals herbicides applied to OSR to reduce risk of slowing early establishment

  • No growth regulation in the autumn to avoid stress

  • Fungicides with greening effects preferred to add value

  • Biostimulant (Terra-sorb) applied at cotyledon-2-leaf stage for a ‘jumpstart’

  • Leaf tests for nutrition to ensure spend is targeted correctly throughout the season

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