The Product Focus from Limagrain looks at how many growers are already reaping the benefits of winter beans, as the areas sown have generally increased year-on-year since 2015.
The 2017 winter bean area was up 50% on 2015 and pulse product manager at Limagrain UK George Hunter says the consensus among the seed trade is that the winter bean area has increased again in 2018.
“Winter beans offer much more than a break crop. Growers who are new to the crop, or are returning to it after a considerable time off, are finding there are compelling reasons for making them a regular part of the rotation.”
There are advantages of a winter-sown bean crop over a spring-grown crop to consider, says Agrii pulse variety manager Peter Smith.
“The last couple of springs have been very wet, whereas we have had favourable autumns, which means bean crops have gone into good seedbed conditions and performed very well.
“Even in last season’s severe weather conditions, where beans went in on heavier land with more body and got roots down, performance was not too bad. Winter beans certainly fared better than other pulses.”
Mr Smith anticipates prices will be reasonable this season: “We should be looking at £20-£25 over feed wheat and, for clean and bruchid-free crops, this could go up another £20. In this situation, that is £40-£45 over wheat.”
While beans may not always be the best paying crop on-farm, they offer significant benefits as part of the rotation, particularly when following with a first wheat, says Mr Hunter.
Winter beans can also offer growers the chance to get on top of grass-weed problems and spread workloads due to flexible drilling dates for the crop.
“Although the recommended drilling window is mid-October to early November, performance does not really drop off until mid-December, then it is just a case of ensuring the agronomy is right to support the crop, such as using higher seed rates.”
A combination of factors has prompted Phil Bennion of Haunton Manor Farm, near Tamworth, to go back to growing beans three years ago, having dropped them from his cereal rotation 15 years ago.
He says: “The ecological focus area regulation change was the real springboard to me coming back to beans and we are now looking at our fourth year of growing them.”
He chose to grow the variety Tundra on the recommendation of his Nickerson seed specialist Florentina Badiu, as the variety was at the top of the PGRO Recommended List for yield and had some strong agronomic characteristics, such as earlier maturity and good standing ability, which allayed his concerns around harvesting the crop.
Mr Bennion says: “We have been generally really pleased with the way the variety has performed. We have had good consistent yields from the heaviest and lightest soils across the farm. Tundra is pretty amenable to both.”
Yields have averaged about five tonnes/hectare, with the 2017 crop producing a really good sample, which was sold on for human consumption, he adds.
“With the drought this year, we did not have any significant rain from early May until the end of July. Yields were down as a result of pod splitting and there was also some discolouration, so quality was disappointing. However, that was to be expected and we have put that highly unusual season behind us.
“We have had very few difficulties at harvest. The Tundra beans have stood well and been easy and quick to combine, so are much better than older, more traditional varieties.”
Has it all been worth the effort? “I wouldn’t drop beans from the rotation now. After all, they are not expensive to grow and their rotational value is unquestionable as an entry for wheat. They are easier to grow than other breaks.
“Where we get the quality, we make some good money, but it would certainly help if generally prices went up a bit vis-a-vis with wheat.”