With the winter oilseed rape area predicted to be substantially down, Dominic Kilburn gets some expert views
With the winter oilseed rape area predicted to be substantially down, Dominic Kilburn gets some expert views on some of the key options and decisions to be made for spring drilling.
The price for linseed is relatively attractive compared with spring OSR.
With as much as a 15 per cent estimated reduction in the area of winter oilseed rape drilled this autumn compared with last, spring barley looks to be the front runner of the spring cropping options to fill much of the 50,000-60,000ha that will potentially become available as a result.
In addition, spring beans and spring wheat look set to help out in filling the void although to a lesser extent than spring barley.
Speaking in early November, those were the initial thoughts of Agrii national arable seeds manager, Barry Barker (left).
“There seems to be quite a number of issues affecting growers this autumn including low grain prices and strategies to more effectively manage their grass weed control. This has led to some changes in variety choice as well as complete changes in crop choice, such as a reduction in the area of winter oilseed rape planted,” he explained.
“There’s also been a small drop in the area of winter beans and winter barley, while winter wheat plantings look to be about the same. So something will have to fill the available land left over this autumn and I expect there to be a little more spring drilling compared with last season,” added Mr Barker.
Looking at possible and probable spring crop options, he said the spring oilseed rape remained a relatively minor crop, principally on account of continuing poor crop prices and flea beetle threat.
Likewise, linseed was also affected by flea beetle and relied heavily on pyrethroid sprays to see it through, although its price was relatively attractive by comparison, suggested Mr Barker.
Turning to pulses, and due to a big increase in the pea area last season, he said that there was currently a surplus of blue peas in the market and therefore an absence of forward contracts with good prices.
“There are limited contracts for human consumption markets and, overall, I expect the pea area to be down next spring,” he added.
Despite a big rise in the area put down to spring beans in 2015, Mr Barker reckoned it would be difficult to get an early estimate of the planned area. “Spring beans have always had the highest ratio of farm-saved seed to certified seed – approximately 50 per cent – and, I’d suggest, with the large amount of crop harvested this summer, there will be another big area going in again this coming spring.
“I would expect continued demand from domestic feed mills looking for protein and this will absorb a lot of the surplus beans in the market, rather than peas, and there are also export opportunities to the Middle East,” he pointed out.
Because of black-grass issues, delayed drilling has featured heavily for many growers this autumn and therefore spring wheat varieties will continue to be popular, pointed out Mr Barker – 50 per cent of which will be Mulika as growers go for the potential milling wheat premium.
He said that Belepi – a soft-type suitable for feed – could potentially take 25 per cent of the spring wheat market. Offering a sowing window from October through to the end of March, Belepi is recognised as a spring wheat as far as the three-crop rule is concerned and that, combined with its perceived competitiveness against black-grass, is proving a popular choice with growers.
“I can see spring wheats doing well again this season as it’s a relatively low input crop which suits at a time when commodity prices remain low.
“Seed sales for this year are already ahead of where they were at this time last year but it’s too early to tell if there is going to be a short supply.”
Spring malting barley varieties in England and Scotland look set to take up much of any available land come the spring; in England replacing some of the area unclaimed by winter OSR, and in Scotland land that has remained undrilled due to the delays caused by a very late harvest.
“Scottish growers have an easy decision to make if they’ve run out of time with winter crops and 95 per cent of them will switch to spring barley which, in the main, will be Concerto that has 40-50 per cent of the distilling market,” explained Mr Barker.
“In England there will be more of a split between varieties: Propino remains the number one variety with 25-30 per cent of the market and high yielding KWS Irina, although not finding favour with the English malting market at the moment, has good export contract opportunities for growers in the proximity of southern and eastern ports.”
Mr Barker suggested that RGT Planet, which is the highest yielding variety based on AHDB fiveS-year RL data, has received malting/brewing approval in France and is in the last stages of approval in England and Germany, as well as being tested in Denmark. “There’ll not be a large number of contracts being offered on this variety for the coming season but it’s a high yielder and a few growers will be taking a punt on it if they can and I am sure seed will sell out quickly,” he said.
“In addition, there will be a little bit of Odyssey and Concerto being grown in England for malting while the remainder of the spring barley market could be made up of several feed varieties.”
Also speaking in early November, his Agrii colleague David Leaper (left) agreed that, following one of the best autumns to date, the decision to delay autumn drilling sufficiently to combat black-grass had played into many growers’ hands while still managing to get the majority of the planned winter cropping area drilled up.
“We’re now seeing quite a bit of rain across the country which will slow things up but, generally speaking, there have been very good conditions for drilling winter crops and so I don’t think there will be a vastly bigger spring acreage in 2016 compared with 2015,” he commented. “That said, the past three seasons have produced some very good results from spring crops which would have been unimaginable when growers were facing the difficult climatic conditions thrown at them back in late 2012 and early 2013,” he added.
Mr Leaper said that Agrii is looking to double the contracted area grown of Budweiser-approved French spring malting barley variety Explorer following the success of crops this year.
With high protein characteristics, Explorer is the only variety that currently meets Budweiser’s required specification, as brewing giant AB InBev seeks to produce more of its UK brewed Budweiser from UK-grown grain.
In 2015, nearly 40 farms grew around 1,500ha (3,700 acres) of the variety on contract.
“The Explorer contract was a success this year and Budweiser was pleased with the UK grown crops,” commented Mr Leaper. “Although the total area was relatively small, we are hoping to expand that for next spring but rather than aiming for the traditional, light land spring barley growers, the Explorer contract suits heavier land for a variety that is high in protein and nitrogen to meet the specification.”
Gleadell’s seed manager, Chris Guest (left) reckons the total area growers will set aside for spring crops next year will be similar to this year, although late autumn weather and the amount of winter cereal drilling completed after sugar beet, potatoes and maize will dictate the final spring hectarage available as usual.
However, he said that with the winter oilseed rape area planted this autumn predicted to be down, it would be interesting to see which crops might take its place. “We’ve seen more demand for winter beans this autumn which may take some of that area, and following a huge increase in the spring bean area last season, I can’t see that crop expanding further.
“There’s continued interest in spring wheat of course and, as ever, the limiting factor for that crop is the supply of seed.
“Interestingly, spring wheat seed crops have not yielded as well as commercial crops this year,” he added.
On the whole demand for spring seed has been good so far this autumn, commented Mr Guest, who pointed out that a proportion of the company’s spring seed sales are driven by earlier (harvest time) committed crops and buy-back schemes through Gleadell’s Null-Lox spring malting barley contracts, as well as through its partnership with Dunns (Long Sutton) Ltd for marrowfat peas.
“Generally speaking though, demand will remain high for spring crops particularly bearing in mind the greening element of protein crops, the three-crop rule and also the opportunity they offer growers in the on-going efforts to control black-grass,” he explained.
In terms of specific varietal interest, he said that Gleadell had already seen a big demand for popular spring wheat Mulika, while feed spring wheat variety KWS Kilburn, with its stand-out yield, may well be in high demand.
Planning for Planet
With spring barley sales starting to take shape, Mr Guest said that top yielding malting variety RGT Planet, which was new to the fully Recommended List last autumn and scheduled to obtain IBD approval in June, will be one to watch out for.
“People will want to grow it anyway for a big heap and if they can get a premium for it then all the better,” he suggested.
Candidate spring barley Laureate – for brewing and distilling – will be grown for evaluation next spring and could be of major interest this time next year, he added.
In terms of pulses, he suggested that spring bean varieties Vertigo, Fanfare and Fuego will remain the key varieties again in 2016, while stressing that any growers drilling spring beans from farm-saved seed should get them tested for stem nematode and leaf and pod spot (ascochyta) as a matter of priority.
In the blue pea sector variety Campus takes the standing ability of peas to a new level, which is one of the biggest concerns for some growers, and although seed availability is limited this season it looks set to be a popular variety, concluded Mr Guest.
Spring wheat interest
The development of high-yielding spring wheats with the flexibility to be sown through the autumn and into March has re-ignited interest in the crop, but drilling date and variety choice are fundamental to performance, said KWS product development manager John Miles.
“With yields often close to the late-sowing winter types, but with better specific weights, spring wheat is a genuine option for those wanting to control problem weeds through delayed drilling or simply wanting to spread the workload through the season,” he pointed out.
“For the majority of growers, farm situation will determine variety choice with drilling date and storage availability the main considerations. KWS Willow is a Group 2 wheat that performs best when sown in late autumn, but with the flexibility to drill through to the conventional spring period. Because crop protection rules are set by drilling date – 1st February being the change-over day – autumn sown spring wheats have the same herbicide options available as winter wheats,” he said.
“Those who want a high-yielding Group 4 should consider KWS Alderon. It offers similar drilling date flexibility to KWS Willow, but without the need to store separately. Both offer good all-round disease resistance and standing ability so will sit nicely on any farm. A third alternative is Group 1 candidate KWS Mullins. It’s a little lower yielding than either Willow or Alderon in the late autumn slot, but comparable with both when sown in the spring. It’s also a few days earlier to mature which is a trait we are intentionally selecting for.”
For those wanting a true spring wheat (sown after February) then KWS Kilburn is the ideal choice, said Mr Miles. “It is the highest yielding spring wheat for the spring period and has an outstanding agronomic package combining excellent all-round disease resistance, especially to brown rust (9). It offers tall, stiff straw and is a strong tillerer. As a feed wheat it can be added to the heap without issue while its yield and straw make it the obvious choice for those with livestock.”
Suffolk-based seed specialist Walnes Seeds provides a comprehensive range of crop varieties suitable for spring sowing throughout eastern, central and southern England. Managing director, Andrew Cooper reckoned he’ll know more by mid-December as to which varieties are proving popular as a spring option for 2016 planting but, currently, seed supplies for most crops look good.
“The desire for some growers to reduce their acreage of winter oilseed rape over the past two seasons has opened the door for protein crops such as spring beans and we are now seeing Vertigo and Fanfare – which take yields on to a new level – taking a larger chunk of Fuego’s diminishing market share.
“They will also make markets for human consumption in most cases,” he added.
He said that Propino would remain the number one spring malting barley variety with newer varieties KWS Irina and RGT Planet “muscling in” on some of its market share. “Propino and KWS Irina will be key for us ahead of spring planting and we’ll have a good look at RGT Planet to see how it performs,” he continued.
“With an increasing amount of cover crops going in the ground this autumn, it’ll also be interesting to see their affect on following spring crops,” said Mr Cooper.
Exciting spring barleys offer opportunity
As the breeders of the only two varieties on the 2015 Recommended List with full IBD approval for brewing and distilling, Concerto and Odyssey, Limagrain UK believes that the focus on producing non-GN spring barley varieties that meet this dual requirement has benefitted growers by offering security in marketing options.
“It is important that the varieties we bring to the market can be used in distilling as well as for domestic brewing and export,” said Limagrain senior barley breeder, Mark Glew.
He explains that varieties suitable for malt distilling should be below 1.65 per cent nitrogen, and non-GN, while grain with nitrogen levels from 1.70-1.85 will meet brewing requirements – growers should be aware of what markets they are growing for to achieve the additional premiums that are obtainable over standard feed price.
Non-GN varieties include the version of a gene that makes them non-producers of the compound glycosidic nitrile. “It’s a tiny piece of DNA, but it makes those particular varieties suitable. There are only a few of them, but they’re the ones that are tested and supported by the distillers.”
This pipeline of varieties from breeders Limagrain UK continues to bring new varieties to the market with flexible marketing options and improved agronomics. Last year saw the recommendation of three new non-GN varieties all of which offer even higher yields and a range of attributes that suit different situations and markets.
“The first of these, Sienna is an exciting variety offering a higher yield than Odyssey,” said Limagrain’s technical arable manager, Ron Granger. “Its robust disease resistance profile underlines its high untreated yields.”
Sienna has the best specific weight on the HGCA RL, a valuable trait desired by the industry. In addition the variety also exhibits many of the positive traits associated with the feed variety Westminster, offering livestock farmers a high yielding alternative.
“Octavia, another high yielding non-GN variety, has IBD provisional approval for malt distilling and brewing, yielding 104 per cent over control in the 2015 AHDB spring barley Recommended List trials.”
Agronomically Octavia offers a very sound package; it is a variety that helps to spread the ripening across the farm as it is earlier ripening than Concerto, so should be particularly attractive to northern growers. It is short strawed with good ratings for rhynchosporium and ramularia, he adds.