There is hardly any reason not to grow winter oilseed rape

There are many compelling reasons for growing winter oilseed rape, from the benefits to soil health, to improving our ability to control difficult grass weeds, to additional yields in subsequent crops.

However, the area planted in the WOSR has remained relatively small since interest in this crop revived in the mid-2000s. As one sector veteran recently put it, “arable farmers know they should be growing WOSR but somehow find reasons not to”.

Now, current canola price offerings make WOSR potentially one of the most profitable crops to grow on its own, and that’s before factoring in higher yields in subsequent crops.

Recent research at Teagasc Oak Park has shown yield increases of up to 19 percent in post-WOSR winter wheat crops compared to continuous winter wheat.

WOSR brings environmental benefits in the form of its contribution to reducing nitrate leaching from farmland.

Although WOSR has a large demand for N, this can be reduced by achieving good ground cover in spring, as measured by the green space index.

WOSR is very efficient in using soil N and organic fertilizer applied in autumn and many growers have reduced their nitrogen by over 100kg/ha this year and saved over €250/ha.

The sowing date is crucial for the development of the canopy; Sowing in August offers the best chance of making savings in N. WOSR can be sown until mid-September, but the risk of poor crown development is higher.

To achieve an August sowing date, many growers are now using mini-till and strip-till systems as an alternative to time-consuming plow-based establishment methods during a busy harvest season; Teagasc research has shown that all methods can be successful.

Yield consistency and potential crop losses are often cited by growers who are reluctant to grow WOSR, but the facts don’t back it up.

The Teagasc crop report shows that WOSR’s average yield has remained constant over the past five years, averaging 4.4t/ha, with some growers regularly yielding 5t/ha.

Grade improvements have played a large part in the reliability of WOSR.

Farmers who grew canola in the 1990s will recall the worries associated with bad weather just before harvest and the risk of half the harvest ending up on the ground when the pods break and the seeds fall off.

Many modern cultivars possess resistance to pod cracking, better phoma, resistance to light leaf spot, and resistance to yellow beet virus. Choose a variety from the Department’s recommended list – these have been tried and tested for at least three years and proven reliable in Irish conditions.

The planting of a cover crop on at least 20 percent of the arable land is also one of the measures of the ECO program (subject to approval by the European Commission).

The threat of pests cannot be ignored. Grazing by pigeons can be significant, especially in a cold spring, and slug damage, both in the canola and in the subsequent crop, can result in significant yield losses if left unchecked.

The cabbage stem flea beetle is a common pest in autumn and has led to a reduction in acreage in the UK due to insecticide resistance. Although it has not been a major problem in Ireland we will have to monitor it as our area grows.

Growing WOSR isn’t for every arable farmer, but finding reasons against it is becoming increasingly difficult.

Ciaran Collins is a Teagasc Plant Specialist based in Midleton, Co Cork There is hardly any reason not to grow winter oilseed rape

Fry Electronics Team

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