BASF Agricultural Solutions UK

Early drilling – the most successful strategy for mitigating risk in OSR in 2020/2021 season

By Sophia Sutherland

Earlier this year we ran a survey to assess how farmers are meeting the challenges of growing OSR. The results were inspiring; growers up and down the country are deploying a vast range of strategies to mitigate risk and doing all they can to preserve OSR’s long-term position in rotations.

The survey, which gathered responses from over 200 growers between January and March this year, showed that despite the challenges of growing OSR, it continues to play a critical role in rotations. 70% of growers across the country said it is a ‘very important’ crop.

They also told us early drilling was the most effective risk-reducing strategy this year. And with 54% of the OSR growers we asked saying they’d drilled early; it was among the most popular strategies deployed.

I asked some our agronomy managers what they thought of the results.

“This year early drilling worked particularly well because we’d moisture in the ground,” reflects Andrew Smooker, BASF agronomy manager.

“But early drilling is not necessarily a panacea,” he warns. “And in some respects, it’s reassuring to see 43% of growers also reported late drilling. It indicates that farmers are taking into account local conditions and the season."

“Early drilling can be successful where there is sufficient moisture; it generally presents adult cabbage stem flea beetles with plants already at 2 or 3 leaves. But it’s also quite common to see very early drilled crops running into other difficulties by the spring, larvae damage, for example. Likewise, waiting for the peak of adult CSFB pressure to pass and drilling late, also has its risks; the weather can close in and stop drilling in its tracks.”

Adjusting drilling date was just one of many risk-reducing strategies. The most popular were improving seedbeds and variety choice. Others included leaving volunteer OSR in neighbouring fields, increasing seed rates and companion cropping.

“It’s clear that growers up and down the country are doing everything they can to reduce crop losses. And it is interesting to note that those in northern and western regions are using nearly as many strategies as those in the east and midlands, where there is the highest pressure from CSFB,” observes Andrew.

66% of growers reported that routinely apply products designed to protect crops from sclerotinia. Matthew Keane, BASF’s agronomy manager noted: “With high prices, it’s no surprise growers are looking to insure crops against the disease. We’ve prolonged flowering, temperatures are on the rise and we’ve had plenty of showers, if there is sclerotinia in the field and it’s left unprotected it could wipe out a valuable crop.”

Despite the crop’s importance, growers were cautious about its future and hoped it’s recovery would come from wider rotations, better understanding of CSFB and higher prices.

“The challenge with OSR is what works well one year, doesn’t necessarily work the next. It’s about being flexible, finding the two or three actions that fit the farm and the season. It’s not easy, but get it right and all the benefits of growing OSR are there for the taking.”

Andrew agrees. “This appears to be one of the best years we’ve had for OSR for several years. While it’s not all been rosy, there are some crops out there which are looking very good, with good yield and market potential.”