Business Farming

Friday 19 September 2014

Tillage - oilseed rape an option for 'three crop' rule

PJ Phelan

Published 27/08/2014 | 02:30

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Two of the biggest combines in the country cutting for Walter Furlong at New Bawn near Enniscorthy in Wexford last week. The Claas 780 tracked combines operate 35ft headers and harvest 10ac per hour each. Grain quality has continued to be excellent, with yields on par with last year's excellent harvest.

The three-crop requirement under greening for farmers with 30+ ha of cereals will result in many farmers being forced to grow crops for the 2015 harvest which they have not previously grown.

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Oilseed rape will suit some of those farmers. It is suitable for medium to heavy soils but will not tolerate compaction.  New growers should consider growing semi dwarf varieties as growth regulation and nitrogen management will not be as critical. Ideally all rape varieties should be sown by September 10  and this is certainly true for the semi dwarfs.

Varieties are described as being either conventional or hybrids. Hybrids have greater vigour and there is a tendency with growers to rely on hybrids when sowing runs late. However the yield potential really comes down to weather conditions after sowing and plant establishment. Hybrids are considered to be less susceptible to slug and pigeon damage.

Seed is supplied with the seed count written on the bag. Use approximately 55 seeds for hybrids and 80 seeds for conventional varieties. Rates should be adjusted depending on soil conditions and sowing dates.

Oilseed rape needs a fine firm seedbed. Cultivation techniques vary from discing followed by sowing to ploughing and cultivating before sowing, with many farmers opting to use a subsoiler and seeder unit. This technique runs a greater risk of slug damage so don't forget the pellets.

A low rate of nitrogen may be beneficial on worn ground. Fertiliser nitrogen and/or 
phosphorus application is not likely to be of benefit and is certainly not permitted after September 15. This is the first year that seed is not dressed with an insecticide. Therefore, it is very important to inspect crops for evidence of flea beetle damage and to apply a suitable insecticide such as Karate Zeon or Decis when significant damage is observed. Flea beetles are blue black to brown in colour and up to 5mm in length. The adults chew the leaf margins of seedlings and create a shot hole effect in cotyledons/first leaves.

The adults lay eggs, September/October, near the soil surface. When they hatch the larvae bore into the petioles and later the main stem. A severe early attack can result in a total crop wipeout. Early sown crops are most at risk but delaying sowing to reduce the risk will result in reduced yield potential and perhaps failure to get the crop sown.


Early broadleaf weed control is critical. Use Katamaran or Butisan S on to moist soil within 48 hours of sowing. Volunteer cereals and grass weeds can be controlled after emergence but don't allow them to become too advanced.

The next major challenge is slug control. Slugs have a serious liking for emerging and fresh oilseed rape leaves. Baiting points, with breakfast cereal such as "Alpen" should be placed in all fields before planting oilseed rape. Cover the baiting point with a slate/plastic bag. The present moist soil conditions are ideal as if slugs are present they are likely to be close to the soil surface. Check the baiting points early the following morning before slugs retreat underground and if you find an average of 1 slug/baiting point you should apply pellets.

This is the last year that you can buy Methiocarb (Draza Elite, Mesurol FS). Draza Elite may be purchased up to September 19, 2014. Don't be tempted to purchase any more than you will definitely use before September 19, 2015 as reside testing will pick it up. If your produce has been added to a larger bin/store you could end up responsible for the disposal of the entire store. 
Methaldehyde and ferric phosphate products will still be on the market and if managed properly will give every bit as good control.

Finally the Department is already looking for pesticide records for this year's crops so get your records up to date. Be careful when writing up PCS numbers as it is easy to make a mistake.

Don't copy PCS numbers from last year's records as the PCS number may have changed while the product name remains the same.

The need to leave appropriate 'no spray' zones adjacent to water courses and water abstraction points is required for all plant protection products. Do not allow pesticides to contaminate water courses, and avoid use if rain is imminent.

Patrick J. Phelan is a member of ACA and ITCA and may be contacted at

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