Plant breeder KWS-UK, working with 12 independent seed merchants, has launched a new scheme to share some of the grower risk in establishing oilseed rape crops.

While oilseed rape is the most profitable autumn break crop, with agronomic and arable workload benefits, and has no need for specialist equipment, it also faces establishment challenges, notes KWS-UK oilseeds product manager Julie Goult.

These range from dry autumns, as experienced in 2018, to the loss of neonicotinoids to control cabbage stem flea beetle (CFSB), and the ongoing slug problem which is about to be exacerbated by the loss of metaldehyde in Great Britain.

KWS estimates the average loss year-on-year is around 5% of the crop, with United Oilseeds estimating a 10% average loss in autumn 2018 (with some regional losses much worse) and the Association of Independent Crop Consultants and Farming Online survey showing 11% losses to CSFB.

The KWS Oilseed Establishment Partnership (OEP) will initially support growers using the company’s national listed candidate variety Blazen, a conventional type with yields as high as any oilseed rape on the current AHDB Recommended List.

The initiative offers growers a lower upfront price for Blazen seed bought through a participating merchant, and a reduced breeder royalty. This will be followed by an establishment levy charged on those successful crops still in the ground (not ploughed up and/or re-drilled) on November 1st.

Establishment auditing will be managed by the British Intellectual Property Office (BIPO) which already oversees the Royalty Area Collection (RAC) scheme that exists for pulse and minority crops.

Ms Goult says the OEP will allow farmers to benefit from using certified seed; will be simple to use; and will enable the sharing of information about crop management through online forums and company newsletters.

She envisages that the initial cost to growers will be £115-£125 for a 4 million seed pack, (sufficient to plant 5ha at a 70 seeds/m2 drilling rate or 4ha at 100/seeds/m2), with a £28/ha levy for those crops that the BIPO deems to be established by the cut-off date.

Participating growers will not have to follow a KWS agronomic protocol or blueprint, but the information sharing channels will allow growers to share and adopt best practice according to the season.

The company anticipates selling between 4-5,000 seed packs in the first season, although it has the seed to service at least double this volume if the demand is there. It also believes the initiative could encourage some farmers to move from Farm Saved Seed to certified product and to a conventional variety, rather than a hybrid.

Most importantly, it hopes the move will encourage growers to stick with the crop despite the challenges it faces.

Participating seed distributors are Alan W Page; Dalton Seeds; Harlow Agricultural Merchants; Hutchinsons; James Mortimer; John Vergette; Pearce Seeds; Quantil; T Denne & Sons; Simpsons Malt; Walnes Seeds and Wynnstay.

KWS says the scheme offers a unique approach linking a high yielding, conventional OSR variety with a partnership to share the risks around establishment between the grower, seed merchant and KWS. The concept could be extended to more varieties in future, and KWS would be interested in working with more merchant partners.