Arable News

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Spring cropping options explored

Dominic Kilburn looks at trends, prospects and options for the spring season 2014

This year’s spring cropping area rose beyond all expectations as a direct result of difficulties in establishing winter crops last autumn. Here, Dominic Kilburn looks at trends, prospects and options for the spring season 2014.

One of the winners following the big drop in the winter wheat area established last season because of the dire autumn conditions in 2012 was a rise in the planted area of spring barley. Indeed, 2013 spring barley plantings in the UK rose by 46 per cent compared with 2012, according to Defra figures, but when statistics for England are taken in isolation, there was a 94 per cent rise in the spring barley area.

This is unprecedented believes Agrii national arable seed product manager, Barry Barker, who reckons that figures for most other spring crops last season, saving that of other spring cereals and spring oilseed rape, remained relatively static compared with a more ‘normal’ season like 2011. “It’s fair to say that most of the planned winter wheat that went undrilled, a fall of 18 per cent in area, eventually went into spring barley and I can’t remember a time when there has been such a jump from season to season.

“The Scottish spring barley situation didn’t change as significantly because there’s a big area of the crop grown there anyway,” he adds.

Looking ahead to spring plantings in 2014, Barry (pictured right) suggests that because of the success that a lot of growers had with spring barley in 2013, many will continue to grow the crop when otherwise it wouldn’t be considered. As well as a good management tool, particularly where grass weeds are concerned, growers haven’t been disappointed with how the crop performed. “They are pleased with the results they got from spring barley and they are prepared to have another go,” says Barry, who points out that the only agronomic downside of spring barley is that it is generally later harvested than the winter equivalent.

He estimates that the area of spring barley in England this spring could be as much as 350,000ha which, although down on 2013 plantings (571,000ha), is still considerably up on the more normal year of 2011 (316,000ha).

Most will be going for the key malting varieties, suggests Barry, such as Propino, Odyssey and perhaps Concerto as their yields are “up there” with the feed varieties but with the added incentive of a malting premium – potentially 15/t for harvest 2014.

“I don’t expect the balance between feed and malting spring barley areas to change much,” he commented.

Autumn progress
With winter cropping planting progress seemingly one of the biggest influences in spring cropping area and crop choice, Barry believes there has been a drop of 10-20 per cent in the sale of certified oilseed rape seed. Some of this fall in sales can be attributed to a carry-over of unplanted seed from last autumn, and which was drilled this autumn, but that still leaves a significant drop in seed requirement unaccounted for. “I’m not exactly sure what has been drilled instead, but speaking to people in the industry there is a feeling that some of that drop may have gone into winter barley where people are looking for an earlier harvest to facilitate getting the oilseed rape in the ground at the optimum time. That could result in a 5-10 per cent increase in the winter barley area.”

The wheat planting area at the moment is there or thereabouts, he suggests, with Agrii having sold similar quantities to what the business sold at the start of last year, despite the fact that a lot of 2012 seed will have been carried over to autumn 2013. “There was certainly a lot of seed leftover from autumn 2012 which has gone in this time, particularly in the west and north of the country which were worse affected last year, and I think the trade may have underestimated the amount of seed leftover on farms in those regions.

“Wheat seed sales could be down this autumn, but there will probably be a slight increase in area on a normal year and I expect that, weather permitting, there will be further sales as we enter the late autumn period.”

The difference last year was that there was a complete shutdown of drilling in the autumn through until late January, he adds.

Spring oilseed rape
Another crop that saw a huge jump in area planted in 2013 was spring oilseed rape; up 4-fold to 92,000ha (in England) compared with the more normal year of 2011 (23,000ha) and even more so when considering 2012 (11,000ha). “Spring oilseed rape is so determined by what happens with the autumn-planted winter crop with growers reacting by patching up what they haven’t managed to establish.

“There’ll be some spring rape business this season but it’s still a little early to tell what the demand will be like. Some growers found that their spring planted rape in 2013 was a little late to harvest, and this might affect decisions.”

Staying with oilseeds; Barry reckons that linseed remained consistent to its normal area at around 34,000ha in 2013 however this was a 25 per cent rise in plantings compared with 2012. “It’s a hard one to tell this season; it tends to be grown by regular growers and prices can be affected by issues with the Canadian crop, but I would expect it to reach the 28,000-34,000ha region if prices perk up a little and there’s plenty of time for growers to decide on that one yet.”

Barry adds that the banning of neonicotinoid seed treatments may also affect the mind-set of some growers considering linseed or spring rape and push them to drill in mid-April, towards the end of the normal drilling window.

On the pulse
Peas and spring beans last season saw quite similar levels to a more normal year (30,000ha of peas) and both these crops could see a repeat of this in 2014, estimates Barry. “Spring beans and peas did well with us last year and there’s certainly a bit of interest in them already.

“There’s good premiums offered on blue peas and those for human consumption for the UK market including early buy-back contracts on open or fixed prices.
“People are less committed in terms of selling their beans; if they have a reasonable quality then they usually find a good export market.”

He reports that with no quality or disease issues with beans, he doesn’t expect any availability problems  ahead of the spring. Peas, on the other hand, is usually a tight market.

Other crops including spring oats, spring wheats and maize all saw gains in area last season but he expects normal levels to resume in 2014, although increasing demand as an energy crop means that maize plantings will remain on the up.

“The only issue with spring oats is that prices are depressed due to a surplus of conventional oats but naked oats contracts are still available at a significant premium to wheat prices,” he points out.

“When it comes to spring wheat, Group 1 variety Mulika dominates the market – the remainder made up of Group 2 and feed varieties. “In the past, growers would have drilled any spring wheat in that ‘January onwards’ slot but they are now being more selective and looking at the quality premiums available.”

In all, Barry expects the total spring cropping area to rise between 5-10 per cent on 2011 with seed availability good.

Long-term view
Senova’s Jeremy Taylor (left) says that last year’s weather consequences have certainly left a lasting impact on those that traditionally include spring crops in the rotation each season; notably the fall in prices of malting barley and oats due to an over subscribing of both crops last spring.
“The big area of oats we saw this year has meant prices have taken a hit but the traditional oat growers are in it for the long-term view. The excess will take a little while to get out of the market but this will eventually be ironed out,” he suggests.

Jeremy points out that Senova’s spring oat variety Conway is up for full recommendation this autumn. A high yielding, short strawed husked oat with excellent resistance to disease and with good lodging resistance, Conway has a very good specific weight and kernel content which should appeal to the market, he says.

Agreeing with Barry Barker, Jeremy believes that the company’s dominant spring wheat variety Mulika will continue to keep the lion’s share of the seed market this season. “The only spring Group 1 wheat which carries OWBM resistance, Mulika can be sown from late autumn right the way through until late April,” he explains. “It’s a particularly useful management tool for those growers with incredibly difficult black-grass problems providing them with the opportunity to control it ahead of sowing.

“We expect the area of spring cropping to come down a little this season but Mulika’s late autumn onwards sowing slot is very favourable with Group 1 wheat growers and it gives them such a wide window in which to sow it.”

Although he describes spring oilseed rape as an ‘opportunity crop’, which proved evident last season with the massive increase in area, Jeremy points out that it has a hard core group of farmers who regularly grow it. “It’s a fast crop to grow, and it did well last season, but there will be one or two who are concerned regarding the banning of neonicotinoids and the fact that they will have to resort to more traditional spray methods to protect it.”

He says that Senova’s conventional variety Tamarin has had three years on the Descriptive List and offers growers a gross output of 102 per cent, 5 per cent above Ability. It remains the highest yielding conventional variety on the List and combines good oil content and standing with early flowering and, importantly, early maturity.

Jeremy says there’s still a good place in the rotation for pulses and that spring bean variety Boxer performed very well in terms of yield last season, where it was available to commercial growers for the first time. “With its pale hilum Boxer is suitable for the export market” says Jeremy. “Boxer is very high yielding, outperforming market leader Fuego by 4 per cent, with a similar grain size, excellent standing ability and similar maturity and straw length,” he adds. In terms of peas; two white varieties Mascara, and new high yielding Kenzzo provide growers with the opportunity to supply both the feed and human consumption markets. “Mascara is one of the leading white pea varieties; suitable for use in animal feed and for human consumption for split peas. It is a popular variety and has good standing ability, it is early to mature and combines well. It also shows excellent resistance to both downy mildew and pea wilt and is suitable for a range of soil types.”

Kenzzo brings improved standing ability and very good resistance to downy mildew, concludes Jeremy.

Making the case for triticale is Soya UK’s David McNaughton, who says that the company has a 30 and 60 per cent share in the UK winter and spring triticale markets respectively.

Spring triticale was grown in the UK for the first time in 2003 – a lot of livestock producers plant it for wholecrop in the west and north of the country replacing wholecrop barley due to triticale being cheaper to produce and containing more protein, he points out.

“Winter varieties can fit the late drilling slot from the autumn through to January or February but growers switch to spring varieties for March/April drilling,” comments David.

“Why don’t so many arable farmers grow it?” he questions. “Triticale is as good a feed as wheat with similar grains and analysis but with a bit more protein, as well as containing lysine which limits amino acid in pig feed.

“If you can grow 11t/ha (4.5t/acre) of wheat then stick with wheat, but growers with some poor, sandy, Breckland-type soil could be better off with triticale,” he claims.

“It’s pretty much a bomb-proof crop for arable growers to produce for the feed market on lower yielding soils, achieving comparable yields with wheat in these situations but with a reduced level of inputs,” he adds.

In addition, David says that triticale won’t be touched by rabbits, which find its bitter foliage too much to stomach and yet the crop is very palatable to cows, he stresses.

David also suggests that triticale could play far bigger role in the bioenergy market in the future if carbon taxation comes into play. “We don’t know what future policy on energy crops will be but carbon taxation may well bring triticale into sharp focus where AD plants are concerned; bringing less energy hungry crops up the scale and a movement away from maize for example,” says David. “If you had to have an energy balance in future you could kiss goodbye to biofuel rape as well as maize out of biodigestion, replacing it with triticale where you can grow a big pile of stuff at lower inputs and with less energy.”

Linseed options
New Linseed varieties Batsman and Bowler from Elsoms Seeds widen the choice for growers looking for an early maturing crop, says the company, which works closely with Dutch breeder van de Bilt and has produced varieties such as ‘Brighton’.

“We are delighted with the results from the 2013 harvest,” comments Elsoms sales manager, Adrian Hayler. “Brighton continues to demonstrate consistent and reliable early maturity and high performance.”

Batsman has combined outstanding yield with very early maturity, while Bowler’s very short and early maturing characteristics make it an ideal choice for growers looking for a variety that combines ease of harvesting with good yield, he adds.

Van de Bilt linseed breeder Raimon Laan (pictured below)  says he is excited by the harvest results. “Batsman is very early, similar to varieties such as Abacus, but provides growers with a substantial increase in yield.

“Bowler is an interesting variety as it has a good yield compared with traditional early varieties but, as well as being early, it is also short with a low stem fibre content and good capsule height uniformity all of which make it easier to harvest,” he continues.

“I am very impressed with Brighton’s ability to produce high yields for farmers year in, year out. The past few years have seen a real variation in growing and harvesting conditions yet Brighton has delivered excellent results both in trials and more importantly on farm and it is no surprise that it remains the first choice for the majority of growers,” he concludes.

Maize matters
Growers of maize for biogas are no more immune to the weather or crop sensitivities when growing for an AD plant compared with their dairy farmer counterparts who are growing it for forage. Variety choice according to factors such as geographical location, soil type and end-use requirements are just as key, says Pioneer’s UK & Ireland business manager, Andy Stainthorpe (left).

“The selection of a particular hybrid inevitably varies according to the different criteria a grower has and in many situations yield is of paramount importance but earliness of maturity is usually another critical factor, particularly for the arable grower looking to follow on from maize with a winter crop,” he says.

The company has a wide range of hybrid maize varieties for all uses – forage, grain and biogas – however none are on the Descriptive List. Instead, Pioneer has devised its PACTS (Pioneer Accurate Crop Testing System) trials intended to help growers identify which of its hybrids are best suited to their location and circumstances, as well as indicating agronomic techniques that may help maximise yields.

In addition to the usual yield and quality results, the PACTS booklet for the first time presents information on the gas yield potential for each hybrid, determining the potential gas yield per tonne and per hectare.

Three of Pioneer’s hybrid varieties geared towards biogas production and for consideration this coming spring include ‘P7892’, ‘P7524’ and ‘P8200’, highlights Andy.

P7892 is a very early maturing hybrid (8) first launched in 2012 and results show that it is an ideal hybrid for forage and biogas production. It has now proven itself to be a leading hybrid in the PACTS line-up with good early vigour and no major agronomic weaknesses, explains Andy.

A large stature hybrid, it has early starch formation and rapid stover dry down with the capability to take forage and energy yields to the next level for many growers. “Three years of trials have demonstrated that the variety has consistent earliness to mature as well as consistent yields,” he added.
P7524 combines very good early vigour with a tall growth habit and it has given high dry matter yields of good starch content, and will suit growers seeking to maximise biogas production.

“Classed as a ‘6’ for maturity it is not quite as early as P7892 but it is slightly higher yielding,” comments Andy. “It performs very well in the east of the country and while it is still quite a new variety, it’s certainly a step forward in terms of yield.”

P8200 is brand new for 2014 and of intermediate maturity (4-5), although it’s not suited to the north of the country, preferring the lighter soils in the east.

“It has a big yield, is tall and has early vigour and by the time we begin to sell the variety in the UK in 2014, it will have completed only two years of trialling but we already have a pretty good idea of its potential from data gained in other countries,” says Andy.

“As the maturity of varieties gets later then the genetic potential rises in terms of yield. If the site is warm enough with a variety like this then you could expect high yields. But put a late maturing hybrid on the wrong site and yield will suffer.

“We say that P8200 is suited to the south, on lighter soils and at lower altitudes,” he adds.
Pioneer’s PACTS booklet can be downloaded at:

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