With high prices and deeper insights into cabbage stem flea beetles (CSFB), the future for oilseed rape (OSR) maybe a turning a corner. 
Titled ‘Champion OSR Together: how to get the best from OSR’, the recent webinar hosted on the BASFs Virtual Farm featured ADM’s Martin Farrow, explaining how and why OSR prices are likely remain high, together with ADAS’ Dr Thomas Wilkinson and grower Adrian Joynt showing how drilling early or late avoided the worst CSFB damage in the latest field-scale trial.
Colin Peters, break crop specialist at NIAB, rounded the session off with an emphatic call to action for all OSR growers and agronomists to join one of the arable sectors widest industry collaborations, known as csfbSMART.
“We’re on a mission to support OSR,” explained Lisa Hulshof, BASF market manager. “We know that there are lots of challenges and probably the biggest is CSFB. It’s led some growers to reduce their acreage and others to drop the crop completely.
“But the future for OSR is looking more positive; prices are high, and we know more about adapting to the challenges of growing the crop. It’s why we’ve launched the initiative ‘Champion OSR Together’.” 
“This year we’ve seen record prices for both new and old crop,” said Martin. “But it’s not just OSR –soya, sunflowers, palm oil prices have all risen. 
“Worldwide we’re forecast to produce 10m more tonnes of oils and fats this next year than last. Yet that only increases stocks by 1.5mmt. There’s not a lot of room for anything to go wrong and we’re watching the weather in the US, Australia, Canada and the Ukraine very closely. It looks good at the moment but there’s still a lot of volatility in the market with covid, politics and weather all playing their part.”
Effect of drilling date on CSFB damage
In the UK cabbage stem flea beetle is driving a reduction in acreage but industry-wide, there’s copious research into the pest and the mitigating measures growers can implement on-farm.
Thomas focused on one aspect of an on-going three-year project which aims to minimise the impact of CSFB through improved understanding of pest phenology and biology, as well as testing and validating on-farm controls approaches. 
The trials around drilling date build on previous findings by ADAS; drilling early means larger plants when the beetles move in and proportionally less adult damage, while drilling later means adult beetles will have a shorter window to lay eggs and the cooler conditions will hinder egg hatch leading to fewer larvae in crops.
One of these trials, supported by BASF, took place on Adrian Joynt’s 600ha farm in east Shropshire.  With over 100ha of rape in his rotation, Adrian is keen to deepen both his, and the wider industry’s understanding of the pest and how to mitigate its effects.
“Flea beetle pressure is increasing here year-on-year,” he noted.  “This year we lost a crop for the first time.”
Thomas explained how they allocated three fields with the same cropping history, to the trial.  Initially there were three drilling dates: August 26, September 6 and September 15. However, the OSR drilled on September 6 was lost to CSFB and was redrilled on October 1. This crop also failed.
“Moisture is always important at establishment,” said Adrian. “The first drilled field established well with 82mm of rain the week before sowing, but there was noticeable flea beetle damage. The crop drilled September 6 came up quite well but immediately after drilling, we went into hot dry spell with a drying wind and the flea beetle attacked. The lack of rain didn’t help and subsequently, the crop failed.  Visually, the September 15 field was easily the best. The crop emerged evenly, it had the best plant counts and least grazing by adult flea beetle.”
ADAS’ analysis showed Adrian’s observations to be accurate and Thomas showed how trapping at a Harper Adam’s monitoring site, less than a mile away from Adrian’s farm, revealed the migration of adult beetles coincided with the proportion of damage seen in these trial crops.
Later this season Thomas and Adrian will be looking at how the CSFB damage effects yield in the remaining two crops.
The final talk was a call to action. 
CSFB SMART is an ambitious on-farm monitoring and trials programme bringing together farmers, agronomists, researchers and the supply chain, with the aim of testing management methods and tools.
“There is no blueprint for combating flea beetles,” acknowledged Colin.  “Each farm and each season is unique. Yet across the country many techniques are being deployed with some success. We want to learn from those people.”
Taking drilling as an example, Colin’s slide demonstrated the breadth of questions growers ask themselves and their advisors.  As well as the use of fertilisers, seed rates and drilling dates, there were questions on variety: Which variety is least palatable to CSFB? Which varieties recover after grazing? Which varieties recover from larvae damage? And, which varieties best suit early or late drilling and/or direct drilling?  It is these sorts of questions which the CSFB SMART project aims to help growers and agronomists answer.
The scope of the project is huge. Areas of particular interest include drilling dates, cover crops, volunteer crops and CSFB emergence (both in OSR and in following wheat crops) and how these factors inter-relate to provide a more holistic picture. There’s funding for the distribution of tools such as traps, surveys, virtual meetings and much more. 
“We can only help ourselves. Researchers can help growers, if growers help research and that means all of you.  Small plot trials won’t help in this case, we need to document geographical successes and share that information. We need to recouple crop establishment with crop survival and final production,” said Colin.

If anyone is interested in taking part in the project, they can sign up here:  www.niab.com/csfbsmart.