Looking back on the OSR report in this magazine in 2010, the prognosis was not too good – world
demand for vegetable oils was falling, because of the global recession, and production was at best
standing still, possibly increasing, and this was putting pressure on grain prices.
Of course, we have now seen a dramatic change, at least in Europe – while many farmers in the UK have seen the best yields ever from their crops, the picture in several of the main production areas – notably Germany – is completely different, with performance well below normal, due the lack of rainfall during the growing period, and too much rain during harvest! This has meant that EU production is some 2.3 million tonnes below consumption, and this has helped to push up prices and maintain them at relatively high levels.
Looking forward to 2012, there is little change – while several states have increased the area
planted (the UK is thought to be about 10% up on previous years) others, again notably Germany, are
down about 10%, and so the total area coming forward is broadly the same. With world demand for
vegetable oils increasing again (driven partly by increased Asian demand for meat, rather than
vegetable based diets) , it is unlikely that prices will go down for some time to come.
All this is good news for the British farmer, of course, and ensures that OSR will be grown more
and more in the future, but the negative side is that with closer rotations come problems –
Verticillium wilt is building up in soils, and can be devastating. With no chemical controls and no
varietal resistance (some varieties appear to be more tolerant than others, but research is on
going) this disease could easily get out of hand quite quickly. Agronomy company H.L. Hutchinson
have undertaken trials in the two years trials with Pete Gladders of ADAS. Colin Button, seed
manager says ‘’the range of varieties tested at two sites (Lincolnshire and Kent) show consistent
differences of infection levels giving rise to up to 100% plant death. Pod Shatter is also
influenced by the early senescence brought on by this disease. The theory is’’ he continued ‘’that
in close rotations over following years, it must make sense to consider varieties that carry less
likelihood of being severely affected by Verticillium Wilt especially if a season were to arrive
with conditions that favour Verticillium Wilt development – early sowing into high temperature
soils 2011? The trials this year will be revealing’’ Colin concluded.
Volunteers are also a major factor in reducing yields – in recent years trialling organisations
have confirmed that lower plant populations allow oilseed rape to deliver more yield – but of
course volunteers completely destroy planned populations, and seed can remain viable in the soil
for many years. The arrival of the Clearfield system from BASF should certainly help deal with
these problems, as well as other weed control issues. With H L Hutchinson involved in the early
introduction of Clearfield technology varieties, Mr Button is confident that growers will indeed
have another option for managing the “intended” population (Hybrids at 45 – 50 plants per sq M for
example) and not the 150 + that arrive with volunteers, thus creating an unknown mix and a canopy
that will challenge the grower with disease control and lodging risk. Colin says that this is
exciting technology; Hutchinson’s and other companies are carrying out a national evaluation with
sites across the UK. Already these have shown good weed control of Charlock and Runch. Excellent
volunteer cereals controls, Mayweeds and useful Cranesbill control too. This technology also brings
the need for Stewardship by the agronomist and grower. NON Clearfield varieties DO NOT survive the
herbicide application. Get this wrong and there is no way back. Similarly there is a duty of care
necessary for controlling volunteers in the following crops and the use of non SU herbicides to
control volunteer OSR in the subsequent cereal crop, ensuring successful limitation of the spread
of the very small number of volunteers that might have SU tolerance.
Should the industry lose propyzamide and or carbetamide for water quality protection, this
technology and weed control option will have great value as well as the obvious crop management
benefits and in the near future varieties with specific oil profiles that can be grown free of
2012 will see the introduction of the first commercially available varieties.