Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
Growers are being urged to reconsider conventional oilseed rape varieties ahead of their cropping strategies for the 2024/5 season. New conventional rape varieties include... Conventional rape varieties are ‘worth another look’

Growers are being urged to reconsider conventional oilseed rape varieties ahead of their cropping strategies for the 2024/5 season.

New conventional rape varieties include several high-performing varieties based on targeted special traits, agronomic merit scores and shorter breeding cycles, say breeders and seed suppliers.

Mark Nightingale, of Lincolnshire-based Elsoms, has been breeding oilseed rape for more than 20 years. He has seen a significant rise in popularity of hybrids in recent years based largely on their reputation for enhanced vigour.

But Mr Nightingale says he now feels that the arrival of new conventional, open-pollinated types offering high yields and similar levels of vigour could tip the balance back towards conventional varieties.

Although rape prices are lower than the highs seen in recent years, the UK still imports 1.5m tonnes of oilseeds annually. “Market demand is still strong,” says Mr Nightingale, who says his role is to ensure growers can grow the crop successfully.

“That includes utilising new breeding techniques to produce conventional varieties which not only match hybrid varieties, but actually outperform them in many areas –including higher yields.

Mr Nightingale says it is also worth noting that new conventional varieties can be bred far faster than hybrids, so the cost of seed is often much lower.

That can mean substantially lower costs and less risk when establishing the crop.

“Despite many other strong and well established economic and agronomic arguments for conventional varieties, there’s little doubt that they have been overlooked when it comes to variety selection.”

The trend towards early establishment to combat cabbage stem flea beetle has seen growers become overly reliant on over-yeared seed – which tends to be less vigorous, regardless of whether it’s a conventional or a hybrid variety.

Risk mitigation

To combat the flea beetle threat, Elsoms is breeding new varieties better able to cope with higher larval loads. And because the breeding cycle for conventional rape is faster, these varieties can adapt to this selection pressure quicker than hybrids.

This is just one element of a wider risk mitigation strategy for growing rape successfully, explains Mr Nightingale. It links with establishing rape after flea beetle migration to minimise  damage and the use of later-applied herbicides.

New conventional varieties from Elsoms include Powerhouse, Firebird and Hallmark. All are in AHDB candidate trials and Mr Nightingale says each offers UK growers something specific to suit their needs.

Powerhouse has exceptionally high seed yields, Firebird combines a high gross output with built-in Turnip Yellows Virus (TuYv) resistance and Hallmark offers high oil content and excellent verticillium resistance.

Growing both

While recent years have seen a definite trend towards hybrids, United Oilseeds seed manager Beckii Gibbs says there has always been a strong place for good conventional varieties.

“Many consistently successful farmers grow both as part of their selection strategy,” says Ms Gibbs. And she emphasises that no rape variety is resistant to flea beetle with both hybrid and conventional varieties susceptible to larval damage.

“Stacked traits in hybrid varieties are very good, but only if you have issues with those resistance,” says Ms Gibbs.

“If you don’t, then you don’t need them and there are certainly some exciting conventional varieties with targeted special traits out there for growers as well, so the overall options on variety choice look strong.

“I see agronomic merit (AM) scores as a farmer-friendly way of comparing varieties when combining yield, oil content, lodging and disease resistance into one single figure. Elsoms new varieties prove you can have a top AM score in a conventional.

“Of the new Elsoms varieties, Firebird has a top three AM score in the East and West with 42.6 and the top AM score in the North with 31.7.  “From recent trial results I’ve seen it appears to have no real weaknesses.”

Ms Gibbs says Hallmark also looks very appealing. “It’s an early maturing variety with excellent verticillium resistance – better than the resistance control in independent testing.”