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Healthy soils key to prize-winning bean crop

Careful attention to crop nutrition and spray timings as well as excellent soil organic matter levels are enabling one North Yorkshire-based farm to grow prize-winning crops.

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FYM plays significant part in recent crop performance successes

If you have an open canopy it provides easy access for pollinator insects

Healthy soils key to prize-winning bean crop

There is no shortage of farm yard manure at 513-hectare (1267-acre) Birch Farm, near Oswaldkirk, Helmsley, North Yorkshire. And its long-term contribution to soil organic matter and fertility no doubt plays a significant part in recent crop performance successes at the farm.


Richard Wainwright won the National Oilseed Rape Performance Awards, presented at Cereals 2016, with a 5.63 tonnes/hectare (2.25t/acre) yield of the crop in 2015 and recently he was awarded the PGRO’s Bean Yield Challenge 2016 for his 6.81t/ha (2.72t/acre) bean crop.


The farm operates on a seven-year rotation – beans/wheat/wheat/barley/oilseed rape/wheat/wheat. Land is ploughed twice in seven years, for barley and beans. “The rest of the time we use min-till. We always muck spread after barley and rape and quite often after wheat. We use a shallow disc cultivator rather than a deep one which helps break it up, although it is fairly well rotted,” Mr Wainwright says.


Muck supply


The ready muck supply comes from the farm’s beef enterprise, which comprises 1200-1400 housed cattle taken through to finishing. “There is a lot of muck to shift,” says Mr Wainwright. “But it is a nice headache to have. A lot of decisions concerning arable are based on spreading muck.”


Although FYM cannot be applied before a bean crop as it is a nitrogen fixing crop, beans occupy an important place in the farm’s arable rotation and Mr Wainwright is committed to growing a commercial crop, not simply complying with EFA greening requirements.


If a potential ban on use of pesticides on the EFA options of nitrogen fixing crops, catch/cover crops and fallow land for BPS 2018 comes into force, he says: “It will not stop us growing beans but will stop us using them as greening area.”


Spring beans


Growing spring rather than winter beans helps spread the farm’s workload as the livestock enterprise demands more attention in mid to late October. Spring beans also tend to mature slightly earlier, allowing drilling of the following wheat crop to get underway, says Mr Wainwright.


Having grown variety, Fuego for many years, he recently switched to Fanfare. “Fuego was not doing anything wrong. We want a consistent performer; Fanfare seems to be a consistent performer. It is strong standing and offers 10 per cent higher yield. The disease ratings are better which is nice to have as a bonus.”


Last year he drilled the prize-winning crop of Fanfare on March 19 using a Sumo DTS. “We plough and press. When the soil temperature is good, we drill with the DTS which has a tine in front which cuts a slot 8in deep to allow the root of the beans to have no resistance; a really nice root structure develops.


“It is about four weeks from drilling to emergence and within that time about 8in of tap root develops. The seed is about 3.5-4in deep, out of the way of crows. By the time it comes to the surface the root is down twice as deep. With rape and winter beans I like double the root to shoot. Not only is it harvesting nutrients, there is good anchorage as well and a big canopy can stand up.”


Plenty of space


Mr Wainwright also believes in giving bean plants plenty of space, opting for a seed rate of 40-45/sq m. Row width is 330mm. “Beans and oilseed rape don’t self-pollinate. If you have an open canopy it provides easy access for pollinator insects. A low seed rate achieves an open canopy and as long as the plant is healthy, yield comes anyway. It’s about having the confidence to do it.”


Unlike cereals or oilseed rape, beans yield from soil level to the top of the crop, he adds.


Pre-em, Nirvana (pendimethalin + imazamox) and Dictate (bentazone) are applied to control weeds. No P and K fertiliser is applied but foliar nutrient and trace element products are. “I’m a big trace element guy. It’s like humans, if you’re fit, active and healthy you tend to fight off colds. If plants are fit and healthy they look after themselves a bit. It will not stop us having to use a chocolate spot fungicide but if it is not ideal conditions it buys a bit of time.”




Products and nutrients applied over the season include: Nutriphite (phosphorus), manganese, Headland Promo (molybdenum and boron) and Headland Kudos (potassium and sulphur). Insecticides are also applied to control aphids.


In mid-June, fungicide, SAN 703 (cyproconazole + chlorothalonil) is applied to prevent chocolate spot and again three weeks later. Lambdaster (lambda-cyhalothrin) was applied on July 5 last year and again seven days later to prevent bruchid beetle. “We’ve always chased the human consumption market so it has been worth making sure we don’t get bruchid beetle. I can’t remember when we last had it,” says Mr Wainwright.


Pre-harvest, the bean crop is desiccated with Reglone (diquat) and pod sealant, Mesh is applied. “Not everyone does Mesh but when using diquat, pods tend to open up and warp. If you put Mesh on it gives a bit of insurance during the 3-4-week period between desiccation and harvest, especially if it is windy or rains.”


Drying beans is done using a continuous flow dryer like a batch drier, he explains. “They are a devil to dry and you don’t want to split or discolour them. We dry them three times and leave them on the floor to stabilise in between. We fill the drier with 40 tonnes and leave it recirculating. With wheat and barley, you can give it a blast of 120degC but with beans it’s 60-70degC max.”


As well as favourable land on the farm and high organic matter levels, attention to detail is key to growing a good crop of beans, he says. “For example, timing of spraying is more important than the product you put on in some cases. If they are treated as an emergency crop after a failed crop, drilled late and no-one puts any inputs put on, they’ll cost nothing to grow but you won’t get anything out.”


The benefits of a good bean crop and its N fixing ability are also visible in Mr Wainwright’s following wheat crop, Siskin. “It’s in really good nick,” he says.


Farm facts

Birch Farm, Oswaldkirk, Helmsley, North Yorkshire

Family partnership: Ian Armitage and son, Peter, Richard Wainwright and son, James plus one staff member

Soil types: Silt loam over limestone. Clay loam over gravel

Average rainfall: 750mm

Arable cropping: 433ha (1070 acres)

200ha (494 acres) winter wheat

80ha (197 acres) winter barley

125ha (308 acres) oilseed rape

28ha (70 acres) spring beans


1200-1400 finishing cattle housed and fed total mixed ration

1000 lambs finished over autumn/winter on stubble turnips and grass

80ha (197 acres) grazing/conservation grassland


Soil care

  • Farm is split into four blocks with one block soil-tested each year for P, K, Mg and pH
  • Soil indices quite high at 2.8-3
  • Variable applications of P and K and muck
  • All fields conductivity scanned
  • Variable seed rates used


Birch Farm spring bean margins 2016

Output t/ha £/ha

6.81t/ha 1106.63

Sprays 183.57

Fertiliser 45.15

Seed 136.35

Total 365.07

Gross margin 741.56

Machinery/labour/fuel 275.00

Total margin 466.56

PGRO Bean Yield Challenge 2017


The PGRO Bean Yield Challenge is open to UK-based growers of any commercial UK-grown grain crop. A trophy is awarded annually for the highest verified yield, while the absolute Yield Challenge winner will be the first grower to achieve a verified yield of 10t/ha or more.


The competition deadline for this year is July 31. For more information visit

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