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High prices and deeper insights into cabbage stem flea beetles suggest oilseed rape is recovering after falling out of favour. Brighter future beckons for oilseed rape

High prices and deeper insights into cabbage stem flea beetles suggest oilseed rape is recovering after falling out of favour.

The future for the crop was discussed during a recent BASF webinar. It featured  Thomas Wilkinson from ADAS, NIAB break crop specialist Colin Peters and grower Adrian Joynt. Price prospects were explained by Martin Farrow from ADM.

“We’ve seen record prices for both new and old crop – but it’s not just oilseed rape,” said Mr Farrow. “Soya, sunflowers, palm oil prices have all risen. 

“Worldwide we’re forecast to produce 10 million more tonnes of oils and fats this next year than last. Yet that only increases stocks by 1.5 million tonnes. There’s not a lot of room for any-thing to go wrong.

Mr Farros said he was closelywatching  the USA, Australia, Canada and Ukraine. “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.”

Crop trials

Although cabbage stem flea beetle has driven a reduction in area, new field-trials confirm that drilling early or late can avoid the worst damage.

Supported by BASF, the trials are one aspect of an on-going three-year ADAS project. It aims to minimise the impact of flea beetle by improving understanding of pest phenology and biology – as well as testing control methods.

Drilling early means plants are larger and better placed to survive when beetles move into crops; while drilling later means adult beetles have a shorter window to lay eggs. The cooler conditions also hinder egg hatch leading to fewer larvae in crops.

One of these trials took place on Adrian Joynt’s 600ha farm in east Shropshire.  With more than 100ha of rape in his rotation, Mr Joynt says flea beetle pressure has been increasing year-on-year.

“This year we lost a crop for the first time,” he says.

Lack of rain

Three fields with the same cropping history were involved in the trial. Initially there were three drilling dates: 26 August, 6 and 15 September. Rape drilled on 6 September was lost to flea beetle and was redrilled on 1 October. This crop also failed.

“The crop drilled on 6 September came up quite well but immediately after drilling, we went into hot dry spell with a drying wind and the flea beetle attacked,” says Mr Joynt. “Lack of rain didn’t help and subsequently the crop failed.”

Visually, the field drilled on 15 September was easily the best. The crop emerged evenly, it had the best plant counts and least grazing by adult flea beetle. This crop and the earlier drilled crop will now be assessed for yield at harvest.

BASF market manager Lisa Hulshof said: “The combination of sustained prices and the breadth and depth of research going on across the industry, there are certainly reasons to be hopeful for the future of this valuable and important break crop.”