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Optimising agronomic and biological inputs for oilseed rape production (AHDB/BBSRC net-zero partnership)


Getting oilseed rape ready for net zero. The agricultural sector contributes around 10% of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To achieve net zero by 2050, UK food production must be part of the solution. However, the sector is complex. It involves numerous processes – from in-field management to supply chain approaches. Agriculture is also relatively exposed to the forces of nature and policy. An economically important arable crop in the UK is oilseed rape (OSR). However, it has a high carbon footprint relative to other arable crops, such as wheat and barley. To reduce the crop’s carbon footprint, further optimisation of production is required. There is considerable opportunity to deliver higher (and more consistent) yields with a reduced environmental impact. This three-month project aimed to support the agricultural transition to net zero. It explored the potential to optimise agronomic and biological inputs in UK oilseed rape production. By working with producers, agronomists, and researchers (through online workshops), and conducting a research review, we identified a series of management adaptations. Growers then prioritised these adaptations – based on the potential of each approach to deliver yield benefits and reduce emissions, as well as their feasibility. The most promising approaches include: Optimising nutrient inputs, including the utilising alternative nutrient sources (such as manure) Improving habitats to promote ecosystem services, including pollination and natural pest control Making better use of pest management thresholds Managing the crop canopy better The review demonstrated that many of these management approaches and their effects in oilseed rape are well researched, particularly pest control and nutrient management. However, some are less extensively studied, such as pollination and canopy management. Although our research identified excellent decision support systems (DSS), these tended to consider one aspect of crop production. For long-term sustainability of the overall system, greater attention to the full series of decisions and their interactions is required. This requires a broader and deeper knowledge of the biological, agronomic and socio-economic drivers of crop production and improvements in associated DSS.

Michael Garratt; Mark Ramsden
University of Reading; ADAS
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