UK farmers 'seriously questioning' future of rapeseed

24.10.2016

Strutt & Parker underlined the waning popularity of rapeseed among UK farmers, saying that even with prices at around their highest in three years, there was "indecision" over the crop's future.

The inclusion of rapeseed in sowings programme will "continue to cause concern", Strutt & Parker agronomist Jack Wilmott said, after a UK harvest in which the yields plunged to a 12-year low on the property consultancy's estimates.

The yield drop – of 23% to 2.9 tonnes per hectares – had spurred "indecision over the crop's future", given that it was largely blamed on an insect pest, cabbage stem flea beetle, against which growers have only limited protection.

The beetle has, to some extent, grown resistant to pyrethroid insecticides, and use of the neonicotinoid insecticides which are effective has been curbed by the European Union.

'Unwelcome surprise'

Terming the yield result an "unwelcome surprise," Mr Willmott said that "in the east, crops struggled to establish under the pressure of pyrethroid resistant adult cabbage stem flea beetle".

"Additionally, the damage caused by larvae of the beetle led to stunted growth and premature senescence."

The poor performance had raised doubts over rapeseed sowings in the UK, even with elevated prices, which stand above £350 a tonne according to CRM AgriCommodities, "the highest level seen for the past three years".

Mr Willmott said: "With a forecast gross margin only £60 per hectare higher than spring beans, growers will be seriously questioning oilseed rape given its additional management requirements."

Fifth successive fall?

The comments follow a series of comments signalling that rapeseed sowings in the UK for the 2017 harvest will, at best, match 2016 levels.

The International Grains Council said last month that "sowings in the UK could decline for a fifth consecutive year on increased risk of insect damage".

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