The farmer-owned oilseed specialists
News Image < Back to list

To Paraphrase Charles Dickens…

Date Added: 27/01/2016

Blog: By Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

Those of you who are well-bred and well-read will be familiar with the famous opening paragraph of the novel ‘A tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. The book begins “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Now, had Mr Dickens been around during the last quarter of 2015, he may well have written “It was the best of autumns, it was the worst of autumns…”

For many, the best part was the warm weather which extended to early December and allowed growers to plant their wheat later than they could have hoped ,enabling an extra flush of black grass to be controlled with glyphosate prior to drilling. This later sown cereal grew for longer than could have been imagined and now looks full of promise and is playing host to much less black grass that has been the case previously. 

Perhaps the worst part of the autumn was a decision made by some farmers in June to reduce the area planted to oilseed rape and increase the area planted to cereals. At the time, it may well have looked like a good idea, as in June 2015 wheat was worth about £140 per tonne for harvest and harvest oilseed rape about £248 per tonne.

The decision was probably made for sound but short-term reasons and before a harvest which yielded much more than at the time could have been expected. By the time the harvest dust had settled, cropping decisions had been made and the die was cast.

If we now move forward to the present and look at harvest prices and estimated gross margins, we see a somewhat different picture - one which must fill every arable (cereal?) farmer with dread.  Feed wheat is trading at about £109 per tonne for harvest movement.  But, more positively, for a variety of reasons (including a somewhat quirky £ to € exchange rate) oilseed rape is currently worth about £251-3 per tonne and, when average premiums are added, it’s value nears £277-280 per tonne.

At this point, I am reminded of a “rule of thumb” suggested to me by a grower shortly after I began working for United Oilseeds. He said that to justify its position in the rotation, oilseed rape needed to be worth two-and-a-half times the price of feed wheat. We are now at that position.

In addition to the monetary value of oilseed rape I do not have to remind you there are other key factors to be considered. For most farms, the ‘Banker Crop’ is first wheat. By definition, this implies that the preceding crop is a break crop. When nitrogen is very expensive, growers will quite naturally look to a crop of peas or beans to perform that role.  However, in relative terms, the price of nitrogen has been falling since last harvest, almost in line with the price of crude oil, and certainly helped by reduced worldwide demand.  This cheaper nitrogen has therefore reduced input costs and consequently improved the returns from oilseed rape.

It is now the time to restore oilseed rape to its rightful place on arable farms. That is to grow it as the major break crop to enable the largest practical area of first wheat to be grown and to make a meaningful contribution to overall farm income.

You can see from my table (above) of estimated gross margins, that oilseed rape is the most profitable break crop to grow as well as being the second most profitable combinable arable crop to grow.  Farmers know that every penny counts and it is perhaps also worth noting that trading members of United Oilseeds also receive a profit share which averages approximately £1.50 per tonne.

There is no doubt that next autumn will pose challenges, but to ensure it becomes “the best of autumns” you need to maximise your oilseed rape area.

< Back to list
© Copyright 2017 United Oilseeds  |  Developed by Boson Media