UK farmers appear not to have turned their back on rapeseed by as much as had been thought, but have cut back deeply on winter wheat, potentially a reflection of a drive to control a pernicious weed.
Autumn sowings of rapeseed in England and Wales, which between them typically account for some 95% of UK production of the oilseed, were, at 633,000 hectares, down only some 0.6% year on year., a survey by the HGCA crop bureau showed
That represents a smaller decrease than the 4% for the whole of the UK indicated in November by research from the Andersons Centre, itself a decline lower than the market had expected at the time.
The resilience in sowings of rapeseed, the vast majority of which is seeded in the autumn in the UK, may reflect the growing popularity too of winter barley, which the HGCA on Tuesday termed “an ideal preceding crop for oilseed rape”.
Barley, which has a relatively short growing season, is an early harvested grain, in turn allowing a rapid start to autumn plantings, an advantage for rapeseed, which has an early sowing window.
Barley in demand
Indeed, barley itself has grown in popularity, with winter sowings in England and Wales estimated at 371,000 hectares as of the start of December, a small rise year on year, and the highest figure since 2003.
Plantings were “seeming to benefit from the availability of newer high-yielding varieties” said Helen Plant, senior analyst at the HGCA.
“Again, many growers this year may be using winter barley to support the establishment of following oilseed rape crops.”
The popularity of the crop in the UK chimes with an estimate from the International Grains Council that winter barley sowings European Union-wide were “unchanged” year on year.
Wheat area falls
But wheat – for which England and Wales autumn sowings were at 1.69m hectares down 7.2% year on year – appears to have bucked the trend of stable plantings seen for the EU as a whole.
The rate of decline in sowings area was also notably bigger than the 5.0% pace of drop indicated by the Andersons Centre research.
However, wheat plantings may be made up largely in the spring, with spring-seeded wheat typically of higher quality and value than autumn planted crop, if usually lower-yielding.
“The higher yields of winter crops are worth comparatively less at lower prices – increasing the incentive to plant spring crops,” Ms Plant said.
Keeping crops out of the field until the spring allows farmers to spray fields for black grass, a weed which is far easier to attack through agrichemicals when in a fallow field rather than within crop.