A group of 12 farmers in the South West are investigating the potential for commercial production of combinable organic protein crops, lupins and soya.
The Mole Valley Farmers group have completed a first year of trials, growing one white variety and one blue variety of lupin, and their results are set to shape a further year of research.
Lupins have a reputation for being problematic to grow in the UK: but with rising demand for organic proteins for animal feed making sourcing increasingly difficult, and with new seed varieties entering the market which may increase the possibility of success in growing locally, the group were keen to see whether they could make it work on their land.
The results were mixed. The white variety largely failed, but the blue showed promise despite the challenges of an unpredictably dry April that reduced establishment. Each of the participants used one or both lupin varieties alongside a range of weed control measures, with mechanical weed control proving most successful. Some chose to intercrop with vetch, but this tended to result in excessive competition from the vetch.
Nigel Mapstone of Mole Valley Farmers, who is coordinating the trials says: “This first year has been a really helpful learning experience and we enter the second year with a more refined trial design, including adding a second blue lupin variety, and we’re confident we can deliver some really positive results. We’ve gathered some good insights that have encouraged us to implement the next trial on larger plot sizes, with denser planting and no intercropping, which should improve both establishment and harvest success this time around.”
Discussing their second trial the group are considering using two blue varieties, Regent and Iris. These have different growth habits, and the group are keen to see whether this results in significant differences in yield, quality and weed competition.
Paul Redmore is one of the farmers taking part. He says: “You can’t go on one year alone really as there are many variables in a field trial situation. Every year you learn a bit more, and over time you start to accumulate a mosaic of knowledge. It’s particularly nice that we’re working as a group, it’s very easy to stay in your own little silo but getting different people together to understand the common problems and find solutions that work is a really worthwhile exercise.”
The group is working with Hannah Jones from the University of Reading. Speaking about the challenges faced in the first year, she says: “Across the South, we had a significantly drier spring in 2017 compared to rainfall over the last decade, which contributed to high plant mortality and greater levels of seed predation than expected.
“Once the remaining plants started to grow with the on-set of rain, the season was well-advanced and the time for the crop to reach maturity was limited. Because the spring weather pattern was significantly different to what can be expected in this first year it is important to repeat and refine these trials, with lessons learned this year meaning greater chance of success going forward.”
The group plan to commence their next trial in spring this year. Keep up to date with their progress by visiting www.innovativefarmers.org