Having endured one of the worst growing season’s in living memory and warnings that we should
get used to more variable conditions in the future, many UK Oilseed Rape growers are now left
looking at poorly performing crops and wondering what to do next to avoid a repeat.
Furthermore, the combined effects of poor yields, low quality and late harvest will give many
growers a difficult start to next year’s crop further adding to their woes, says DSV UK managing
director Mike Mann.
“The warm Winter, followed by a dry Spring and cold wet Summer this year have tested the
genetics of many varieties to the full with crops across the country suffering from lodging and
diseases making for a very difficult harvest with reduced seed yields and low oil content. Many
crops are so poor they have simply been abandoned,” he says.
“Some producers have seen problems with Phoma and Botrytis, the long flowering season has
resulted in Sclerotinia and a lot of crops have developed Verticillium wilt in the later stages.”
But by far the biggest problem has been standing power with many crops lodging from the
flowering stage and even stronger crops succumbing to the onslaught of the wind and rain later in
According to ADAS, 50% of UK OSR crops have some lodging after lush Spring growth with trials
showing a 15 – 50% loss.
Many of the flattened crops had dead material on top with the bottom still green and growing,
which then rotted, making dessication a nightmare. The end result is that harvesting is at least
two weeks later than usual and this is producing a difficult ‘knock-on’ effect into next
The wheat harvest will be delayed, as well, which will put even more pressure on OSR
But such conditions are likely to become more prevalent in the years ahead, with the
Environment Agency now warning growers to get used to more erratic, unpredictable and extreme
weather patterns in the future.
“The weather extremes which we’ve seen this year – with widespread floods almost immediately
following a long-term drought – have brought the importance of resilience into sharp focus,” says
Environment Agency Chairman Lord Chris Smith.
“Climate change science tells us that these are the sorts of weather patterns we are going to
have to get used to, so taking action today to prepare and adapt is vital.”
Part of this adaptation, Mike Mann believes, is facing the reality that disease resistance is
less important than a variety’s inherent stability and reliability in coping with a wide variety of
“It’s often easier to control disease in the field than it is to manage a lodged crop and the
potential losses are much greater,” Mike Mann explains.
“Adverse conditions always expose the strength of a variety’s core genetics and this year has
given growers a great opportunity to see this.”
“Have a look around you and see what has worked – if it’s worked this year, it’s likely to
work in the future – and use this to guide your choices for next year. A testing year is about the
best indicator of performance you can get.”
Varieties to focus on for next year are rapidly establishing hybrids with good straw stiffness
and high resistance to lodging. These have proved to be the most successful this season – but even
their performance has varied between varieties, he says.
“Compass has done particularly well with its exceptional Autumn establishment combined with
good Spring vigour and list-topping oil content giving it consistent performance across the
country. For this year, the new low biomass hybrid Troy - the highest yielding semi-dwarf ever and
with exceptional stem characteristics - will also be a strong contender although seed stocks will
Early results from ADAS are also suggesting semi-dwarf varieties could have a future role in
controlling the UK’s Blackgrass epidemic due to their sideways grow which forms an interlocking
rosette of leaves close to the ground in the autumn. This canopy excludes all light and effectively
‘smothers’ weed growth.
Trials by Hutchinsons involving Troy suggest 98% Blackgrass control can be effected provided
basic guidelines on cultivation and management are followed.
“The best varieties will inevitably be in short supply this autumn,” says Mike Mann. “The
varieties that visibly performed well this year have already nearly sold out and the late harvest
is putting pressure on farm-saved seed.
“Many producers who usually rely on farm-saved material are being forced to look at buying in
seed because of poor crop quality together with the turnaround time needed and this is making a
difficult situation even worse.”
All in all, the growing season of 2012 could well be the one that changes many growers’
priorities when it comes to varietal choice, concludes Mike Mann.
“Whilst we all hope we don’t get a repeat of this extremely difficult year, the scientific
consensus is that weather patterns are changing and becoming more variable. With this being the
case, a variety’s stability and ability to consistently deliver high yields and oil content in
widely differing conditions will become its most important attribute.
It’s something DSV breeders in Germany recognise as a priority and ‘genetic resilience’ is
becoming a key watchword, he says.
“When push comes to shove, diseases can be controlled by good agronomy but nothing can change
whether a variety is strong enough to deliver high performance in difficult and variable conditions
- from drought to monsoon.
“Most varieties perform well in good growing conditions - it’s when the chips are down that
the best come to the fore and this precisely what 2012 has shown.”