WITH oilseed rape growers getting back to basics with seedbeds and moisture will be the key to establishment this year.

You should conserve, or wait for moisture before drilling and remove weed competition to ensure a more even establishment.

Despite very different approaches, and the creative use of old and new techniques, growers Julian Thirsk and David Bird agreed that seedbeds were key to getting oilseed rape (OSR) up and away.

Mr Thirsk has a 325ha North Yorkshire farm and is responsible another 7800ha through his work as an independent agronomist. He acknowledged that the risk of cabbage steam flea beetle damage is lower for him than elsewhere.

“You want a rape crop to establish as quickly and evenly as possible,” he said. “Growing OSR is about getting the basics right and that means putting the effort into getting a good seedbed and conserving moisture.

For sowing, he said: “I always like a leg to go through soils ahead of drilling OSR. The crop hates compaction. And with the rain we’ve had this year, I’m seeing a lot of pans at around 10-inches deep. While there’s a fair amount of soils now cracking in the heat, I’d question how far down the cracks go.” For this, he uses a simple approach, with a drill on the back of his subsoiler, a Simba Flatliner.

Mr Bird takes a different approach on his 364 ha family farm in Suffolk. Having taken a break from OSR, the crop made a return to the farm two years ago and his Clearfield varieties are now grown one year in six, with a companion crop mix of mustard, buckwheat and burseem clover.

“When we can get OSR established and yielding, it’s a profitable break crop and there aren’t many out there,” he said. “We stopped growing it for a while because the risks were too great. A combination of cabbage steam flea beetle, slugs and black-grass meant taking a break was the only sensible option.

“Technically, we drill too early, but our OSR crops gets the moisture they need. By drilling directly into stubble, there are no clods for the flea beetle to hide in.

"The companion crops dilute the effects of cabbage stem flea beetles as well as competing with the black-grass. It also means the soil is covered during establishment, conserving moisture when it’s needed the most.” To do this, he uses a Prime West Cross Slot drill.

The companion crops are drilled in alternate rows. “We’ll have one row of rape with a low companion crop seed rate, then a row with a high seed rate of companion crop and no rape. Come the spring, OSR ends up in wider rows when the companion crops have died back.”

Mr Bird will be trialling a nitrogen and phosphate starter fertiliser for the first time this year. In contrast, Mr Thirsk preferred to spread organic manure spread ahead of the crop and benefit from the slow nutrient-release.

“I still like to use pre-ems on certain farms,” added Mr Thirsk. “Where the OSR has been drilled in good growing conditions and there’s a known weed issue, for example, getting a timely pre-em on removes competition from weeds increasing the chances of a quick and even establishment.”

“New chemistry does give us the option to assess a crop’s viability before investing but for many, pre-ems still have their place.”