Wolds Diary: ‘Yellow peril’ brings plenty of colour to Wolds

Oil seed rape flowering in the Wolds EMN-170305-141909001
Oil seed rape flowering in the Wolds EMN-170305-141909001

Peter Thompson takes a look at the countryside in spring in his Wolds Diary.

March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers - and Oilseed Rape (OSR).

The fields of the Wolds seem to have a lot of rape this year, more than ever, and the hills are alive with the stuff.

A local cleric has reportedly skipped taking Evensong due to sniffs and all manner of symptoms set off by OSR, or the yellow peril as we shall now call it.

Although it has been a mild winter here, across Europe there have been plenty of storms-and I am not talking Brexit.

Britain has mild winters compared to much of the continent and so high yields have pushed up the UK as an effective producer.

Historically, OSR has been a break crop in farm rotation and as the proud winner of the Best Veg Garden in Caistor 2016, like most gardeners I know crop rotation is important for fertility.

More importantly, farmers hereabouts soon knew oilseed rape suppressed weeds and improved soil quality which would benefit the cereal crops more historically associated with the Wolds.

In recent years, the yellow peril has become much more profitable,lighting up the eyes of our farmers.

So what is it used for? Animal feed, mayonnaise, margarine and vegetable oils more generally is the answer.

Throw in the line that animal fats have been frowned upon by the healthy food generation recently, while vegetable oils are a definite positive,you soon get the picture. Equally, if not more important, OSR is used for biodiesel and lubricants.

The yellow is of course when the crop is in flower, between four and eight weeks from April until the end of May, but it was early this year, some out by the end of March.

Blake wrote of England’s green and pleasant land, Thankfully he is not around to take a walk this year in the Wolds.

Yellow peril and yellow belly though do not get on too well.

Studies have shown inhalation of rape dust can trigger asthma in agricultural workers. Whether rape pollen causes hay fever has been less well established because rape is an insect pollinated crop whereas hay fever is usually caused by wind pollinated plants.

So how much OSR affects our health is debatable, but two parson friends of mine are sure the crop’s large pollen grain is born on an ill wind that is neither good for man nor beast.

Grown best in Eastern England due to the drier climate the crop does well in such areas as the Vale of Belvoir and the East Riding, as well as our local Wolds.

But back to home. There is a stained glass window in the wonderful and ancient Ramblers Church at Walesby showing Christ walking through fields of corn.

Thankfully the artist did not picture the Lord among the yellow peril - it would not have felt quite right.