Best in Field: Oilseed Rape - A P Innes
For a second year in a row, Graham Innes and the team at AP Innes have been credited with having the lowest cost of production for their Oilseed Rape, Producing LG’s Acacia at £73.29/t with a yield of 4.8t/ha. We spoke to Graham to find out how he’d managed to reduce his cost of production further as well as his plans for the future.
The closest farm we have seen to you in terms of cost per ton produced is also in Scotland – what makes it such a great place for growing OSR? Do colder winters help?
It should do. Last year we had a cold spring. This year has been much warmer. It’ll be interesting to see the impact that has on our fungicide spend. We also benefit from slightly longer days in the summer.
In 2021 we had low flea beetle pressure. We’ve been testing for light leaf spot, and it looks like we have our fair share of it this year. We’ll see how that develops over the next month or so and decide as it develops.
You mentioned last year you wanted to get your seed rate lower, with 2020’s seed cost at £23.92/ha and for 2021 Harvest you got that down to £21.91. Have you reached maximum efficiency of rate?
We’re drilling slightly less than last year. OSR seed is so expensive so even a small reduction in seeds drilled makes a big difference. It’s a marginal change in rate, we weren’t actively looking to make a large change in rate. We’re happy with where we’ve got our seed rate.
You’ve has some changes to the varieties you grow. What was the decision making behind the change there?
We had some Barbados left over from some contracted land and used that for 2021.
We’ve dropped Anastasia and will be focussing on Acacia now. We’ve been using Anastasia for about 10 years, but we are getting the performance we want from Acacia and will be using that as our main variety.
What is your entry crop now to OSR – it was Winter Barley, but you have also been following Spring Barley?
We’ve very much focused on Winter Barley before OSR, we’ll occasionally use Spring Barley when we want to increase our OSR area. This year we have Aurelia as a hybrid rather than a conventional variety following the Spring Barley. That land was sown later than the fields drilled with conventional varieties we thought we’d give it the best chance to get away and use a hybrid. It's our first time with a hybrid and we’ll be monitoring the performance of that throughout the season, but unless it does something amazing, we’ll stick with conventional varieties.
You are expanding your contracting side of the business. Have you found any issues covering your own land along with the contracted land?
We’re busy making efficiencies on the farm, we’re moving to a block system rather than individual fields to give us blocks of Oilseed Rape, winter wheat, etc. That still allows us to treat the fields individually in terms of fertiliser use and chemical applications but manage them far more efficiently when it comes to moving kit around the farm.
Looking at your herbicide costs, they shot up from £38.90/ha in 2020 to £86.09/ha 2021. What caused that?
That was purely down to the fields we had the rape in having a fair amount of broadleaf weed issues.
With the price and access to Glyphosate we are seeing, have you got any other methods to treat the weeds?
We haven’t converted to mechanical hoes or methods like that. We’re just making sure we’re planning ahead and make sure we have what we need in stock ahead of time. Bromes is still the main weed issue here which we need to keep vigilant on. We’ll often spray for Brome on the headlands rather than the whole field and try not to track it into the middle of the field during cultivations and sowing.
Have you done anything else differently in 2021 or for this season’s crop?
Our overall policy is to increase organic manures and with the hope of reducing our inorganic inputs. We’ve got a good and reliable source of hen pen which we put on ahead of the OSR at 7.5t per hectare.
We had good weather in the autumn, so the crop was well advanced before winter. We had sheep on some of the Oilseed Rape fields for 10 days which looks to have done a great job of removing old diseased leaves and allowing a clean start for the crop growing away in the spring. For the fields without grazing, we have had to apply a PGR before the winter and will need a second application and a fungicide spray too. I’m hopeful the grazed areas won’t need either, which will save us three applications overall, but we’ll monitor this as the season progresses.
With the hybrid performance, impact of the hen pen and grazing, as three alterations to approach we will have some interesting data to compare at the end of this year.
We’re moving towards a lower till approach and putting in place a controlled traffic system on the farm to minimise wheeling's and compaction. Both new projects for this year which will make a huge difference to our farming operation and soil health, and hopefully yield.
We’re also introducing cover crops ahead of spring crops. That’s going to dramatically increase the workload for the drill by covering the whole farm but something we’re ready for. The cover crops will go in before the winter crops by the end of August, or first week of September otherwise we’ll have to go without. Predominantly the cover crops are for the soil health, and we have a good network of livestock farmers for grazing of those.
What are you doing about Fertiliser prices this year? Is there a ready supply of organic manure around you?
We do a lot of muck for straw here. We applied FYM across 50% of the farm in the autumn. It’s a good soil improver and we’re confident over time we can greatly reduce or potentially remove bagged phosphorus and potassium from the farm as well as significantly reduce bagged nitrogen.
We bought our liquid nitrogen early. We put on some solid nitrogen that we didn’t buy so well. We’ve got decent levels of P & K on the farm, so having a break from those for a year to limit the expense this year. We cant keep doing that and the organic manures help with that but we’ll keep measuring and will top up as we need to. We’ve cut back slightly on fertiliser but not dramatically. Its matching the output value with the input costs. Its 2023 Harvest which is more of a challenge from an inputs point of view, both fertiliser and diesel.
How are you then testing and monitoring the soil conditions?
We use Omnia Terramap to scan our entire area every 3-5 years. The detail and accuracy of TerraMap is amazing and something we are very focused on. Its helping us even out the levels of phosphorus and add copper as two examples.
For us, it’s using the data and using the data correctly. Knowing what the soil is doing and why, and finding ways to improve the conditions of the soil. Understanding and fixing the deficiencies in the soil allows us to maximise the performance of the fields.
We are aware that we can’t make every inch of soil on the farm perfect. We’re using data to understand poorer areas of the farm, taking those out of production. There is no one fix across the farm, it takes multiple approaches.