The winter bean growing area is set to rise this autumn, sparked by CAP greening rules and tighter margins in alternative break crops.

The nitrogen-fixing crop is likely to appeal to growers looking to meet the three-crop rule and will count towards the new ecological focus area requirements

Currently about 30,000ha of winter beans are in the ground, according to the Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO), and many experts now anticipate a rise.

Andy Bury, national pulse trader with agricultural merchant Frontier, says there is strong demand from North Africa and from the UK’s aquaculture industry.

“The demand for human consumption is there, particularly in Egypt. In addition to that, here in the UK the fish food market is growing year on year,” he says.

This season the price of beans going for human consumption reached about £230/t, and for next season Mr Bury expects a £40/t premium over feed wheat for all beans and another £30/t for those going for human consumption.

Securing premium prices will require growers to sell early on in the season, when the beans are a paler colour.

“This is critical for the human consumption market, because they can quickly become much darker and less appealing the further into the season you go,” he explains.

This will ensure growers get the best price and stay ahead of their French and Australian counterparts, who give the toughest competition to UK pulse growers.

Stephen Belcher, principal technical officer at the PGRO, expects a number of new growers will turn to winter beans and points out pest control will be vital in ensuring quality, with bruchid beetles posing one of the biggest challenges.

“Disease control will also e important, with chocolate spot the main risk, but apart from that it is a relatively easy crop to grow,” he says.

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Mr Belcher says growers should aim to drill in the last week of October running into early November to ensure crops don’t become too winter proud.

“This offers a bigger window of opportunity to tackle blackgrass and reduces the disease threat,” he says.

“Then other than a relatively straightforward herbicide programme, the crop is left alone until the spring,” Mr Belcher adds.

The inclusion of winter beans into a rotation can also benefit the rotational margins, according to Ron Stobart at crop consultant Niab Tag.

“We’ve found that as you move your oilseed rape rotation closer together, you can lose up to 12% in yield. So adding a crop such as winter beans will provide a lift in your oilseed rape yields as well as boosting your wheat yields,” he adds.

The spike in interest in winter beans has increased worries about an adequate seed supply for the forthcoming season.

However, Peter Smith of Wherry & Sons, who supplies one of the most popular varieties for the human consumption market, Wizard, says while seed supplies will be tight, they should be able to cope with the demand.