Blog: Can we continue to grow oilseed rape in the UK?


NFU plant health expert Emma Hamer reports back from the British Crop Production Council Pests and Beneficials Review.

She writes:

I attended the British Crop Production Council Pests and Beneficials Review recently.

The title of this review was “Can we continue to grow oilseed rape in the UK?” which seemed like a doom and gloom question. But by the end of the day, I could see that the future of oilseed rape production in the UK is really questionable.

One of the reasons for this is the low price farmers are currently getting for the harvested crop. In 2011 OSR sold at £400/tonne; in 2014 the price was £250. Palm oil can easily be substituted for rapeseed oil. Consequently there is a high degree of risk involved in taking the decision to grow OSR and often this risk does not pay off as it costs more to grow the crop than is returned when the crop is sold. However, OSR is seen as a good break crop in a rotation, so farmers are often prepared to make a loss on one crop some years, if it helps reduce disease pressures in a different crop the next year.

Pest control in OSR is a massive problem. As the acreage grown has increased massively, so have the numbers of cabbage stem flea beetles (CSFB) that feed on it. Farmers deal with these by a number of cultural control methods such as long rotations, early drilling so the plants get away from the pests, good seed beds and chemical sprays. However, the chemistry available for beetle control is dwindling; CSFB is becoming increasingly resistant to pyrethroid sprays and the highly targeted neonicotinoid seed treatments which give plants protection in those vital first few weeks of growth have had their use suspended in the UK.

So a combination of low prices, lack of chemistry and CSFB population explosion have combined to make the growing of OSR in some places at least impossible.

This is a bad thing because OSR fields provide a fantastic habitat for wildlife. The crop hosts numerous species of invertebrates, including honey bees who find the crop very attractive as a source of pollen and nectar. These invertebrates in turn feed songbirds which add to the enhanced biodiversity of UK farmland.

I came to the conclusion that there is no single answer to how OSR can be profitable in this country. It is a combination of a number of factors but just how much longer will farmers have to decide their cropping plan on a throw of the dice, hoping it might come right this year?

So to answer the question ‘can we continue to grow OSR in the UK?’ – I suspect the answer for many well be “no.”

    Last edited on: 03:03:2016

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  • Posted by: CookePosted on: 03/03/2016 23:59:14

    Comment: Try calling the Bee Farmers assoc. they may increase OSR yields by 25%
  • Posted by: Richard ButlerPosted on: 05/03/2016 10:07:15

    Comment: Emma is right to highlight the risk arable farmers are taking now growing oilseed rape without neonicotinoid seed dressings .Planting autumn sown rapeseed will be especially difficult if the weather is especially warm and dry at sowing time . Then crop emergence will be very slow and this leaves the crop vulnerable to the flea beetle for far longer, potentially at worst writing the crop off and at best leaving it severely damaged . I farm in Wiltshire and have seen some damage to emerging crops and had to spray up to three times . This has been in favourable seasons with ideal seedbed conditions with plenty of moisture to get the crop away quickly. The dilemma now is whether to plant earlier than in the past risking crops being too forward or possibly increase seed rates to allow for plant losses or stop growing rape . There is another solution assuming the legal challenge to the loss of neonictinoids takes years to resolve . There are other potential seed dressings approved for other crops used elsewhere in the world which could provide some protection against the flea beetle . We need our pesticide regulators who licence products to fast track an alternative dressing so farmers can sow rapeseed with confidance that their crop has protection against this pest . this will be good for bees as the present position leaves us with no alternative to repeated spraying of emerging crops when there is a problem which most definitely is not good for bees . So come on CRD you need to work with the chemical companies and find a safe alternative as the current situation is costing British farmers a fortune in lost revenue at a time of very low profitability.
  • Posted by: ReynoldsPosted on: 06/03/2016 11:37:48

    Comment: OSR is unsustainable at the current pricing structure. Beans likewise fall into the same category. With £180 /tonne in 2014 to £124 in 2016. The cost structure is likewise unworkable. No business can continue to grow product at a loss year on year. If we are not going to be paid a fair price for food then lets produce crops for green energy which might result in a positive cash flow.

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