This coming harvest will be our third year of growing Alpaga winter linseed. So far it has been an interesting learning experience and has now replaced part of our previous rape area. The rest is made up with forage maize for a local beef producer and spring oats. None of these are as profitable as rape once was, but all infinitely more reliable thanks to uncontrollable flea beetle. Last harvest was the final straw, where a lack of moisture in September lead to a slow growing crop, which was then hit by flea beetles. This meant a second year with poor returns from the golden break crop. So no more here for the time being, but I live in hope that we will one day grow rape again.
This winter’s wet weather, which decimated our winter drilling plans and the demise of rape has presented an opportunity to reorganise my cropping. Previously we had a 5 year rotation mainly for the rape. This consisted of 3 cereals and 2 break crops. It will now be bought back to 3 years, with 2 cereals and 1 break crop, the latter split between winter linseed, maize and spring oats. The maize gets 40t/ha of farm yard manure and the spring oats will have a mini winter break using a cover crop. The other 2 years will be first wheat, followed by either spring or winter barley depending on soil type, previous crop and grass weeds. This will greatly reduce my exposure to less profitable break crops and give more flexibility to respond to market changes.
The winter linseed has been a steep learning curve, but for what it is worth this is what I have found: Yield for us on grade 3 soils has been a consistent 2.5t/ha. However, the key to profitability, as is often the case is the level of inputs. There are some very expensive and ambitious agronomy packages out there coupled with costly seed. Avadex, Centurion Max and Crawler can all be used, but as a crop it does not compete with blackgrass, so it is all down to clean seedbeds and herbicides. These inputs soon knock a hole in your returns so pay careful attention to how much you spend on fancy fungicide and growth regulator mixes. If you want to control disease and lodging in the south of England for example, then don’t sow it when you have traditionally put rape in the ground. I aim for the second half of September, but make sure you are finished before October as its emergence and growth rapidly slows down after that. When drilling, seed to soil contact is important and it does not like thick mats of straw. Despite what you might be told, pigeons do feed on it particularly now there is much less rape about. Unlike rape it will come back from heavy grazing in the spring, but this does lead to uneven ripening. The latter is a complete pain now we no longer have Reglone as a desiccant. Glyphosate is slow and very unreliable because the optimum spray timing is when most of the green parts of the plant have gone. There is an emergency approval application in for a minor crop use of Carfentrazone-ethyl, but only for seed crops. At full dose it’s over £40/ha which makes it prohibitive. It doesn’t need much nitrogen with about 80kg/ha of N split between early spring and post flowering. Finally, combining linseed in July or early August is usually a breeze, but I am yet to try it without Reglone. We row the straw up and push it into heaps with the loader to burn, which seems a waste, but don’t try chopping it unless you want cotton wool! It is a brilliant crop to direct drill into afterwards and our best wheat this year is following linseed.
Good luck with harvest. We should be going into winter barley around the middle of the month. In the meantime, the pubs and more importantly the brewery located on the farm, are about to open. Happy days.