Claims that the UK pea and bean sector will be decimated by the French government’s decision to pay its growers extra subsidies are over-stated, according to seed breeder Nickerson.

Concerns over the future of the sector were raised in October when it emerged that French growers would be getting up to €150/ha (£139/ha) coupled aid, on top of the €56/ha (£51/ha) they already get for growing peas and beans.

It was feared this would give them a huge financial advantage in export markets, dragging down prices for everyone. Some UK growers questioned whether it would be worth growing protein crops at all.

But pulse product manager for Nickerson, Les Daubney, says this was a knee-jerk reaction and the reality will be somewhat different.

“The reason the French have gone down this route because their own pea acreage has fallen so much in recent years. It is now just 20% of where it once was,” he told Farmers Weekly. “Yes, there will be an increase in 2010, but it will be restricted by the limited amount of seed available.”

Mr Daubney also argues that most of the French pea crop is white winter peas, used for animal feed. “They never grow much in the way of large blues or marrowfat peas. As such, our premium markets will be largely unaffected.”

The situation with beans is a bit different, he adds, with the French growing significant amounts of spring beans in the north. These compete with UK beans in the Egyptian market in particular.

“If their beans have extra subsidy, then that could be a threat. But the question is, can they get the same quality as we can? Generally the UK has a better product.”

Mr Daubney also believes that beans will still be grown in the UK because of their value in the rotation. “They’re a low input crop that leaves some residual nitrogen and is fantastic for clearing up blackgrass. They also help spread the harvest.”

Peas and beans should still get a good price next year, he adds, though this will depend more on the price of wheat than the value of French subsidy.

“We’ve been building up the acreage in recent years in the UK and growers have been making good money. I’d hate to see this reversed because of unjustified fears over what the French are doing.”

For a FW view on this story, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog