A recently recommended hybrid winter oilseed rape is said to be less attractive to pigeons than some other varieties.
By Andrew Blake
Like several highly successful varieties, Riband winter wheat for example, Compass took a couple of years to be recommended by CEL, notes Mike Mann, UK sales and marketing director for German breeder DSV. But when it did, last December, it became one of only six varieties to be recommended across the whole of the UK.
“This ‘year in waiting’ has given many farmers the opportunity to see Compass early at first hand - and shows it’s not going to be another one-year wonder,” says Mike Mann.
In the North region, Compass offers 3% more gross output than the next highest UK-listed variety Flash, mostly due to its exceptional oil content. “At over 46% it is significantly higher than any variety listed for the North other than Lioness.”
Compass in the North has displayed above average resistance to lodging and stem stiffness, medium flowering and maturity, and it has a light leaf spot resistance rating of 6.
In the East/West region the variety delivers a respectable gross output of 106%, again driven by its very high oil content.
“But it’s for its other attributes that Compass is becoming best known,” he says. “In HGCA trials it has the highest score for autumn vigour, making it the fastest establishing variety. This is especially useful in a late season, or when dealing with a difficult seed-bed; but it can also be very important for normal drilling dates – it’s not when you sow, it’s when the crop comes up that matters. Rapid establishment helps prepare it for the winter whatever the weather.”
Speed of growth is also important in the spring, when the crop has to move quickly through stem extension to flowering, he adds. “Compass is extremely quick at this too, although there’s no official data to back this up.
“The other attribute is more ‘anecdotal’. Two years ago, Phillip Marr, trials manager for Masstock Arable, noticed that on Smart Farms up and down the country, pigeons didn’t have a go at Compass; they might fly in and take a nibble, but didn’t stay for long.
“He mentioned this during his discussion of the variety at the firm’s trials days, and several growers took enough notice to try growing Compass.
“This year, with more than 20,000ha in the ground, more and more farmers have noticed this phenomenon. At present it’s not known if there’s any scientific explanation, although breeders DSV are investigating several ideas.”
One is that pigeons dislike the peppery taste of glucosinolates in the leaves. Glucosinolate levels in the leaves are not necessarily the same as those in the seed, Mike Mann points out. “High leaf glucs do not mean high seed glucs - Compass’s seed level is very low.”
It is possible that the leaves are more fibrous and therefore more unpalatable than other varieties.
“Compass is also very fast growing, both in autumn and spring,” he adds. “So it may be that the quicker ground cover means the pigeons go elsewhere.”
The combination of all three factors and/or others may be at work, he says. “Of course, not every farmer sees the same effect. If a pigeon is hungry enough, it will probably eat anything.” He acknowledges that Compass’s resistance to stem canker, rated only 4, could be better. “But in general agronomists say it makes no difference what a variety scores - it still has to be sprayed against phoma.”
Even Excel, with a stem canker resistance score of 9, needs to be treated, he points out. “In practical terms there’s no on-farm difference between a score of 4 and 7.”
Dual phoma treatment the norm
Agrovista agronomist and seed manager Nigel Walley says a two-spray autumn programme, based on flusilazole, tends to be the firm’s recommended practice irrespective of variety.
“It was a bit difficult this time round though because of the Arctic weather. But we like Compass because of its early vigour – the bigger leaves can cope better with slight phoma infections.” That is because the disease has further to travel further to reach the stem than on smaller leaves, he explains.
“We’ve definitely had comments about its pigeon resistance, and given a chance the birds do seem to favour varieties other than Compass.”
Favourable feedback
Last autumn Dalton Seeds sold Compass to a number of farmers attracted by its high yield potential, says the firm’s James Wallace.
“Feedback from growers has been very favourable. Along with other hybrid varieties Compass established well, survived the hard December weather and has been growing away fast in warmer weather.
“One feature of Compass that’s creating interest is its potential ability to deter pigeon grazing. While many people believe pigeons are deterred by bitter taste that’s a mammalian sensitivity. Bitterness isn’t a bird repellent. Birds are sensitive to hot sensations such as those provided by curry, chilli and mustard.”
Glucosinolates, the chemicals responsible for mustard’s heat, occur naturally in rape plants. That is why their concentration must be restricted in the seed so that the meal may be included in useful amounts in animal feeds, James Wallace explains.
“However, the levels in seed and leaf are not directly related. Forage rapes have low leaf glucosinolate levels but high seed contents.
“It seems likely that although the seed content of Compass is one of the lowest on the Recommended List the leaf level may be higher than average - so pigeons will favour grazing crops of other varieties with lower leaf glucosinolates.
“This poses an interesting ethical question for growers. Is it fair for a neighbour to grow Compass which might deter grazing by the local pigeon population and move it on to yours?
“Maybe the answer’s to get in first and grow it on your land to move the pigeons on elsewhere
Gleadell Agriculture has seen a major shift towards hybrids, such as Compass, over the past two years, says seed manager Chris Guest.
“Growers are extremely aware of the benefits of the vigour of these types, and this is certainly backed by good reports - both in the autumn and the spring.
“Those with Compass in the ground have certainly supported recent articles that pigeons dislike the variety, and fields of it have been relatively untouched compared with other older varieties.
Given improved oilseed prices growers are increasingly becoming aware of the value of the crop’s oil, he notes. “It’s very noticeable within their payments when prices are at current levels. So varieties with high oil content, such as Compass at 46.6%, are certainly of interest and will prove popular for autumn 2011 planting.”
New FEDIOL (EU Oil and Protein Meal Industry) rules affecting ‘home-saving’, which come into play over the next couple of years, will inevitably reinforce hybrids’ popularity, he believes.
“Growers certainly feel more secure drilling these hybrids as you move later into the autumn sowing period, as their vigour will ensure they get established.”
Safe, reliable option
United Oilseeds seed manager Beckii Gibbs agrees. “Compass is a safe, reliable and real option for growers across the whole of the UK,” she says.
“It’s capable of achieving a high level of yield, oil and gross margin which very few, if any, other varieties can match across such a diverse range of growing conditions and soil types.
“As a fully restored hybrid it boasts good autumn vigour, which helps it to establish well. More importantly, it produces an excellent gross output thanks largely to its exceptional oil content
The 2011/12 Recommended List put Compass’s oil content at 46.3% in the North. And in the East/West, at 46.6%, it’s the highest oil content on trial, an accolade it shares with PR46W21, though Dimension is only 0.1% behind, she notes.
“These high oil figures mean that Compass can deliver significant oil bonuses. Based on a current harvest 2012 price of £327/t, it will deliver an additional £32.37/t in oil premiums taking its overall ex-farm price to £359/t.
“This makes it one of the highest performing varieties, giving growers access to a secure and sustainable margin.”
It is a medium to late maturing variety which ensures good pod fill before to harvesting, she adds. “It’s this characteristic which results in such high oil contents.
“Compass also shows a natural ability to resist pigeon damage. And it benefits from a medium stem height and excellent canopy structure and strength which can ease harvesting.”
From harvest 2013 there will be a maximum glucosinolate threshold of 18 micromoles/mg in oilseed rape varieties, she notes.
“Low glucosinolate levels are particularly important as these will encourage the higher use of rapemeal within animal feed rations. It’s my opinion that Compass, with a glucosinolate level of 9.7 micromoles/mg, is well placed to meet these requirements and any future reductions.”
Field reactions
J Masstock agronomist Sam Patchett says Compass has performed consistently in Smart Farm trials for 3 years. “It has everything you could ask for when growing oilseed rape in the north; as well as the east and west as a later drilling option. It’s high yielding and has excellent vigour both in the autumn and spring.”
Mr Patchett, who also farms 80ha (of which a third is oilseed rape) near Goole, East Yorkshire, believes those traits are important as his crop is grown after wheat so drilling is not usually until early September.
He establishes it using a Sumo Trio with a seeder on the back to take full advantage of available soil moisture whilst leaving the structure in good condition.
“We’ve grown Compass for 2 years now, and last year’s crop achieved 5.6t/ha with an oil content of 44.7%, which is higher than any other variety we’ve grown, however this comparison is against conventional varieties.”
“Looking after a variety which doesn’t look back from day one is an important attribute which has drawn many farmers to Compass.”
If oilseed rape is grown where pigeons or other pests can be a problem, having a variety with such hybrid vigour can mean a faster recovery and ultimately higher yields than many other varieties grown under the same circumstances, he adds.
“As with all hybrids getting the plant population right is important in order to maximise the plants’ potential.
“The aim should be for a spring stand of 20-25 plants/sq m which will encourage branching and increase light infiltration to the leaves during pod fill.”
With its phoma resistance score of only 4 Compass does need a robust well-timed autumn fungicide, he admits. “But a flusilazole-based product will give good control.”
Adrian Hatchett, Velcourt manager for Humberside Farmers at Newbald Lodge, near Beverley, Yorkshire, grows about 165ha of rape, Compass being one of several varieties last season including Excalibur and Flash.
“We normally average about 4.5t/ha, but it gave us our highest yield last year with over 5t/ha, although it was on a bit of more bodied land.”
Most of the soils are thin over chalk at 300-400ft above sea level, he notes.
“I have no evidence that it’s any less attractive to pigeons, but it was on its own with woods around; so it was an ideal opportunity for them to get at it.”
John Lambert, manager of Nova Scotia Farm, Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk, is a first time oilseed rape grower having had to drop vining peas. He has 49ha this season – all Compass.
“I chose it because it’s one of the highest yielders, and some of it is on our marshland where I need the crop to ‘get up and go’. So far the pigeons have tended to leave it alone.”
Sprayed once in December it was still clean at the beginning of March, he reports.
Agronomist and farmer Andy Alexander, who has 20ha of winter oilseed rape on Beccles series clay south-east of Norwich, was attracted to Compass at last year’s Cereals event partly by the suggestion that pigeons preferred other varieties.
He has two adjacent fields, of 5-6ha each, one growing Compass the other Excalibur - both drilled on the same day in late August.
“They’re on the same soil type and have had the same husbandry, but I’ve definitely not had so much [pigeon] problem with the Compass.”