GOOD establishment is paramount when it comes to oilseed rape, at Southesk Farms, in Angus, where it is part of a seven-year rotation.

With pigeons, wildfowl and challenging weather conditions in the North-east to contend with, Southesk's manager, Neil MacLeod, has had to modify his oilseed rape establishment strategy over the last seven years to keep making it a success.

Oilseed rape is primarily included within the seven-year rotation due to it being an excellent entry for wheat, explained Mr MacLeod.

He said the area is limited in break crop options, but OSR enables him to spread workload. “Our biggest concern with oilseed rape is the short establishment window,” commented Mr MacLeod. “It must be drilled by the end of August, but that relies on the timing of the barley harvest.”

Jim Carswell, Agrii’s R and D manager in the North, added that Mr MacLeod’s concerns are not in isolation. He said that, where possible, the aim for most OSR in Scotland was to be drilled by mid-August.

He pointed out: “Any later than August and the soil begins to cool, which is when the establishment problems start.

"Growers here are contending with a different set of challenges when it comes to oilseed rape and the importance of establishment couldn’t be greater. That’s why we have to use every tool in the box – from optimum seed bed conditions and cultivation methods, right through to autumn vigour.”

With woodland, trees and a nature reserve all in close proximity, Southesk Farm’s 1600 ha are also subject to pigeon and wildfowl attack, making establishment all the more important.

He said: “We need green cover as quickly as possible to reduce the chances of pigeons landing on the crop early. Our aim is for the top of the root collar to be a minimum of 1cm diameter and for the plant to be a good size ahead of winter.”

To achieve this, Mr MacLeod has moved away from continuous ploughing to a mix of minimum tillage, direct drilling and rotational ploughing.

The introduction of these techniques coincided with the farm moving to just sowing hybrid varieties, he added.

“We used to grow a mix of hybrids and OPs, but we moved to just hybrids to take advantage of their autumn vigour in the establishment period and for their good spring growth. We find hybrids more cost effective in a difficult year, which for us is typically due to weather or pest pressure.”

The challenging conditions in the North-east contribute to an average yield varying between 3.5-4.2 t/ha, with last year’s yield coming in at 3.97 t/ha.

As part of his establishment strategy, Mr MacLeod aims to select varieties robust enough to cope with his conditions. “We generally give interesting new varieties a trial on farm for a couple of years, unless they are disastrous.

"Because of our wide rotation, we don’t have problems with clubroot, which helps with varietal selection.”

A new variety he is trialling this year is Bayer’s hybrid, InVigor 1035 (InV1035), which he said had the vigour needed to grow away from pest pressures and develop sufficiently prior to winter.

The variety was drilled on August 22 at 56 seeds/m2, using a Lemkin Karat cultivator, followed by a Vaderstad 8m drill and rolled.

“It was a little over a week before the new variety emerged, establishing more plants than the surrounding crop of Incentive. By April it was in early stem extension, filling the gaps between the rows and with a nicely branched canopy developed,” he said.

Autumn vigour was a strong quality of the variety. He continued: “When we took the GAI scores it was greater than a number of other hybrids and we are seeing lower levels of LLS in the untreated plots.”

The variety’s light leaf spot score (7) is a positive asset, given the pressure from this disease in Scotland, argued both Mr MacLeod and Mr Carswell.