Pest pressure prompts regional decline in oilseed rape area

A field of oilseed rape near Wymondham. Photo: Steve Adams

A field of oilseed rape near Wymondham. Photo: Steve Adams

There could be fewer bright yellow fields across East Anglia this summer as many of the region's farmers have rejected oilseed rape (OSR) in favour of other crops, a survey suggests.

The eastern region has seen a 21pc decline in the number of hectares planted with OSR compared to the 2016 harvest, according to the AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) Winter Planting Survey.

The change is thought to be due to the threat posed by the cabbage stem flea beetle crop pest, and is a marked contrast to the southwest and north west of England, where estimated plantings have risen by 11pc and 13pc respectively.

The survey, showing plantings as at December 1, 2016, indicates that the English area of oilseed rape will be around 538Kha, so unless there is an increase in the spring area, or a rise in abandonment levels, the overall area is likely to be similar to last harvest. In other regions, oilseed rape still seems to remain the break crop of choice, possible due to higher prices at the time of planting, the study found.

AHDB market analyst Isobel Robinson said: 'This shift away from oilseed rape in the East is likely due to production pressures, including the potential risk from cabbage stem flea beetle damage.'

The survey estimates the area planted in England and Wales of wheat and winter barley plus oilseed rape and oats in England at 2.59Mha. The bulk of this is wheat, at 1.59Mha, then oilseed rape (538Kha), winter barley (369Kha) and oats (95Kha).

England has seen a 6pc decline in wheat area, and the report suggests growers are considering longer rotations to control weeds and disease.

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'In recent years we have seen increased interest in cultural controls for weeds and disease, particularly black-grass, which has contributed to a rise in spring cropping. In addition, market conditions continue to challenge the economics of the whole rotation,' said Ms Robinson.

The survey says eastern region farmers have planted 2pc more winter barley than last year, and 15pc more oats, but the wheat area in the region is down by 6pc.