Best in Field 2023. A P Innes, Oilseed Rape


Graham Innes and the team at A P Innes have been awarded our Best in Field for Oilseed Rape 2023 with an outstanding variable Cost of Production of £141.90/t. For 8 years in a row, A P Innes have produced OSR with beneath average costs.

Graham, how does it feel to have your Best in Field crown back?  

Fantastic. It’s not something we set out to do, but it’s nice to get recognition for doing as well as we can.  

For our first-time listeners/readers, why don’t you introduce yourself?  

We’re A P Innes on the Scottish Borders, just South of Kelso. We’re third generation now, my grandad took the farm over around 1935. I farm in partnership with my brother, Doug, and my father is also still active on the farm (despite being in his 70’s, he’s fighting fit!) 

Our farm is roughly 200ha combinable, plus 650ha which we contract, so we’re around 850ha of combinable land.  

The rotation consists of Winter Wheat, Winter Barley, Winter Oilseed Rape, Spring Oats and Spring Barley.  

Previously we grew Vining Peas but following some work with yourselves at YAGRO we’ve dropped those out for the time being, in favour of increasing our Spring Oat area. This is due to the Gross Margin being so narrow for the Peas and better for Oats. Our controlled traffic method for our fields also has effects as the Peas like to vine out wherever they want! 

However, we’re not saying ‘never again’ to Vining Peas... We valued them as a break crop for several years, they’re good for fresh produce, and it was a marginal decision to exclude them.  

Are you still using independent agronomy?  

Yes, and we still strongly believe in it.  

We believe it brings in good value for money on our chemical spend, which is evident on our YAGRO platform. Of course, we have to pay the agronomist, but we’re convinced we’re making bigger savings by him being able to buy wherever he wants. It’s going well.  

Last time we were here for a Best in Field Award it was 2021. You were beginning to experiment with a new blocking system for your crops. Why was this? and has it helped?  

At that time, we were actively trying to expand our business by seeking new Contract Farming Agreements. We realised that having scattered individual fields was very inefficient, especially for spraying and cultivations.  

So, we introduced a blocking system, and thankfully we did! We’ve implemented this across our newest land acquired in 2023 also. It makes a huge difference in terms of efficiency. When it comes to getting kit around, you just go to one whole block and get it done.  

At the size we are today I’d say it would be almost impossible if we hadn’t blocked our crops into bigger areas. It works well.  

Are you still running the same 7-year wide rotation, with Winter Barley as your preferred entry crop to OSR?  

Yep, we’re still growing Winter Barley as our main entry crop to OSR. Whether we reduce our Winter Barley area and try putting some OSR in after Wheat is something we’re actively thinking about. Plenty of people around here do that and it seems to go well.  

But we’re getting good results from our Rape, so you might question why we would change. Winter Barley isn’t the most profitable crop for us, but it’s also not the worst. Barley helps us to spread our workload as it’s early to harvest, meaning we can get the field cleared and baled and get the Rape in early. The Barley brings a lot of advantages to the Rape, even if it’s not got the best margin.  

So, if we did introduce Rape after Wheat, it wouldn’t be a massive area - a quarter or a third of the Rape maximum.  

It’s a case of ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ My brother and I in our farming partnership can sometimes be guilty of trying too many new things, rather than focusing on what we’re doing and tightening that. The Barley is working well right now, so we’ll continue with it.  

It’s looking at the bigger picture and especially with our bigger area now. Being able to spread workload is massive, especially at harvest - we have a shorter harvest window than down South, and July and August are our wettest months.  

What machinery is helping with your Oilseed Rape?  

We don’t have anything specific for the Rape. Five years ago was the last time we ploughed for OSR, and we’ve been min-till since.  

Actually, the year we didn’t win this award (2022) we tried direct drilling the Rape. I wouldn’t classify it as a failure, but because it’s such a small seed, we felt we needed more tilth.  

Now we’re using a Low Disturbance Loosener to take out wheelings where the combine has been, then using a Horsch Cruiser to give us some tilth – just the top few inches to help get better seed-soil contact.  

We’re using a normal tine drill, an Amazone Cayena, and aim to put the seed in as shallow as possible. Almost dropping it in. The Cayena has got a good packer and a following harrow – so the seed is always going to be covered and get that soil contact.  

We have considered a one pass system, but we don’t have the kit to do that currently. It would mean an investment that we’re not convinced we need to make right now.  

Your Oilseed Rape variable COP/t landed at £141.90, roughly a third less than the Market Median for Harvest 2023 - for which you’ve won this year’s Best in Field Award... Looking over your YAGRO platform, you’ve grown OSR with beneath average costs for 8 years in a row. Can you throw your hat on some of the main reasons why?  

I’ve heard Oilseed Rape being discussed as a weed rather than a crop! So, we try not to spend too much on it.  

We have a very low seed rate. We don’t put many fungicides on. If there’s a good canopy, we try to only put on a maximum of 150kg of Nitrogen. If the canopy is big enough in the right year, I think it could take even less than that without much of a yield drop. It’s a crop I’m keen to try pulling Nitrogen back on further. We tried scaling back Nitrogen on Wheat and Barley but definitely saw a yield penalty.  

We’re not doing variable rate Nitrogen at the moment. I’ve never tried it. My father tried variable rate N about 8 years ago and wasn’t convinced he saw any benefits.  

Currently, we’re focused largely on timeliness of establishment and getting good seedbeds. This year has shown more than ever that if the plant is there then you can do something with it, and if it’s not there you can’t do anything. So, we’re focusing on our sowing and getting the plant off to the best possible start.  

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In 2020, you said that the application of chemicals was something you were looking to reduce. Your 2023 chem spend was less than half the Market Median, just £34/t. Would you say you’ve achieved your goals as far as chemical spend is concerned?  

We’ve certainly improved and reduced our spend, which is good. Total chem spend might go back up slightly but that’s because we’re applying micronutrients to the crop, as opposed to fungicides. Luckily, we don’t have a massive issue with Flea Beetle.  

Our philosophy is that if we get the crop away to a good start, get it growing quickly in the Autumn by sowing middle of August latest, then hopefully it’ll be growing stronger than any Flea Beetle could attack.  

We haven’t used any pesticides for the last couple of years. Except for once last Autumn on some headland where the pressure was particularly bad – but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Was probably a case of ‘too little too late’ on that occasion.  

So yes, we’re happy with where our chemical spend is. We limit fungicides as much as we can without yield penalty, and our Cost of Production is good. 

Within your chem spend, you’ve cut fungicide by 14% /ha compared to last year. Pretty extraordinary given the way prices are going. You have some Leaf Spot pressure up here... was last year a good year for Leaf Spot? Did that help with reducing fungicide?   

The Autumn of 2022 was certainly quite dry, and that helped reduce the Light Leaf Spot issues we had.  

My belief is that because there are so many leaves on an Oilseed Rape plant, and because it’s branching and growing so vigorously, even if there is some Light Leaf Spot, it’s not like Septoria on Wheat that can wipe out leaves quickly. Rape is growing so rapidly it can grow away from disease.  

I am in discussions continuously with our agronomist about trying to reduce fungicides, and he’s always making sure we’re not doing ourselves out of a yield or good crop. We’re reviewing year-on-year how much we’re using.  

Sticking with your inputs, I noticed some Potash went on one of your OSR fields this year. As well as other fertiliser mixes, including organics. I take it soil health and nutrients are still top of your agenda? 

Definitely. That’s the main focus really. Our Potash and Phosphate go on variably as required. We use Hutchinson’s Omnia for all our crop requirements and can be very selective.  

We would like to be using more organic materials, like introducing compost. We’re already using hen-pen after Oats before Wheat. Previously we were using hen-pen before OSR, but changed because Oats take a lot out of the soil and don’t leave much for the following crop, and we wanted to give our Wheat the best possible start. It’s working well but we try to give changes three years before judging them.   

Generally, we’re trying to improve our soil health. It’s not in a bad place but it can always get better. And the healthier the soil, the more resilient it is, and the better the crop.  

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And are you still utilising straw-for-muck agreements in your local area? 

Yes, we’re still doing as much straw-for-muck as we can. We’ve got our own cattle court, so we get some muck of our own. We sell Barley and Oat straw, and the Wheat straw is either chopped or also sold for muck. We’re lucky to have a good local supply.  

For the last few years, we have been putting in more cover crops. Due to not harvesting Wheat until the middle of August, there isn’t enough time to bale the straw, get the field cleared and get a cover crop in. So, we have to decide whether to chop the straw and put the cover crop in - or bale it and get straw-for-muck. It’s a year-by-year decision on what’s possible.  

Let’s talk about some of your varieties. Previously you’ve grown Anastasia and some Barbados. Harvest 2023 you opted for Acacia and Aurelia, for which you’ve won this year’s Best in Field Award. What’s driving your variety choices?  

Anastasia did well for us, and we brought in Acacia as another conventional variety to compare and replace it. Aurelia is a hybrid, and we liked the idea of its increased vigour, both in Autumn and Spring, and it’s only our second year of trying Aurelia. 

Last year we had two fields of Acacia and one of Aurelia and treated them all the same way, and Aurelia did yield slightly better and looked the stronger crop throughout the year. The issue with hybrids, however, is seed cost – it’s more than double the price compared to conventional seed. A higher seed cost adds risk to the business if the crop fails for whatever reason.  

Variety choice, particularly hybrid vs conventional, is an ongoing discussion amongst the team.  

You mention failed OSR crops, which unfortunately down South is an occurrence. Our 2022 OSR Best in Field Winner, Alan Clifton-Holt down on the Romney Marsh in Kent, has spoken about being quite ruthless with his Rape by cutting out crops that haven’t established well by November. Are you this ruthless too?  

I don’t think we need to be that ruthless here just now. We’ve not got the same Flea Beetle pressure as down South. As long as we’ve got 5-10 plants per square metre, then we’ll do everything we can to get that crop to harvest. Any less plants and you might have to rethink.  

Putting in enough seeds per square meter we hope to have enough plants, and we try to hang onto them as much as we can. Rape is our second most profitable crop behind Wheat, and some years our most profitable. We like OSR, it’s a great break, and we do everything we can to keep it.  

You mentioned seed rate. Consistently you use a low seed rate, less than half the Market Median, with your Acacia being drilled at just 35 seeds per square meter in 2023. Why do you keep your seed rates so low?  

Oilseed Rape doesn’t like its neighbours. The less plants we have the more they can branch, and the better yield we can achieve.  

We’re getting good results from our seed rate, though I admit it’s a high-risk strategy, as there’s not much leeway if we do have failures. But in a good year I’d be keen to try even lower seed-rate. A good establishment for us in the Autumn means that 30 seeds per square meter gives enough plants as to not have a yield penalty.  

It’s working for us, we don’t have the Flea Beetle pressure the South has, so we’re sticking with it. You get patchy bits of the field sometimes, but you end up with huge plants come harvest – it’s amazing.  

And are you still buying in treated seed each year?  

Yep, again with the low seed-rate, we’re only putting on a few kilos per hectare. It’s just not worth home-saving and treating such a small amount. And we can’t home-save the hybrids anyway, so it really makes sense to just buy the small amount each year. 

I was on your website recently,, which is really smart and paints a great picture of your organisation. Your slogan there is “Sustainable, Profitable Farming.” Sustainability is a bit of buzz word in the industry in the sense that it comes in many forms; Environmental, Financial ... What does sustainability mean to you?  

To me sustainability is ensuring that what we have is here for many years to come.  

The only way we’re going to do that is by looking after our natural assets, including the soil and the environment. But also the business. If we’re not profitable then we don’t have a business at all.  

So, we look after our environment, we look after our soils, and at the same time making sure our bottom line is healthy, so that we can continue to do what we’re doing. It’s a holistic picture.  

Something else I noticed on your website were your Core Principles. One of which is “Informed Decision-Making Through Data Analysis.’ Do you owe much of your success here to data analytics?  

I mean, there’s so much data in farming. In just one field, by the time you sow it and do all your passes, you could have 20-25 activities going on in just that one field. We’ve got over 100 fields now. The amount of data is huge.  

Being able to analyse that data, look into it and find trends, mistakes, issues... anything that can highlight to us what we can improve is a benefit.  

Another purpose for data is farm benchmarking. My father started benchmarking 15 years ago and I’ve carried that on. We actually had a budget meeting for harvest 2024 just last week. Meeting with other farmers to share knowledge, being open and collaborative about challenges, is hugely beneficial.  

Challenging things is the best way to improve. I like to say that you only fail once because you learn from it.  

Now you’ve reclaimed your Oilseed Rape Best in Field Award, what’s on the horizon for A P Innes?  

The Borders seem to have gotten off more lightly than other parts of the country in terms of rainfall, but we’ve got a few problem fields that will need pulling out and putting into Spring crops.  

We want to give our crops the most attention we can, including the ones that are struggling, and get things healthy as the Spring progresses. Currently the season is looking challenging but we’re just about to get back on the ground.   

The goal right now is to just keep everything growing that’s already growing!  

We’d like to thank Graham for speaking with us and congratulate the team at A P Innes once again for their 2023 Best in Field Award, and becoming three-time winners of our Oilseed Rape category!  

Luke Sayer joined our Marketing Team in March 2023. With a background in the Arable Trials sector and a First Degree in English, Luke is responsible for writing our articles and handling press relations. His journey in agriculture began in 2008, when he worked his first harvest. Over the next 15 years, Luke worked a dozen harvest seasons - becoming a full-time Arable Trials farmer from 2019 to 2023. He has farmed every type of cereal plus pulses and break crops, but specifically focused on developing better beta-glucan levels in Oat varieties. In his YAGRO articles, Luke emphasises the crucial role that data and technology play in modern agriculture. He believes that listening and responding to farm data is the surest way to increase sustainability and efficiency in this ever-evolving industry. You can contact Luke on