3 July 1998

Farmers in Britain put Canadian soya on trial

By Edward Long

CONSUMER concerns over imported soya products could boost UK demand for locally-sourced supplies of non-genetically modified soya to provide oil and protein for human consumption. Now the crop must prove it can be reliably grown on this side of the Atlantic.

This year the worlds largest soyabean breeder is putting three conventionally-bred grain producing, cold-tolerant Canadian varieties on trial here. All three are already being grown commercially in Austria.

"Our decision to go ahead follows the experience of another breeder who imported our material from Canada and successfully grew a crop in the UK last year."

The trials, says Andrew Stainthorpe, arable crop manager for Northampton-based Pioneer HiBred Seeds Northern Europe, have been set up on farms in Devon, Dorset, Hants, Berks, Shropshire, Cheshire, the west Midlands, Wales and Lincs. Three varieties – Montir, Feskir and Casimir – are being grown at each site.

While rape and linseed have protein contents of around 20% with 40% oil, the ratio is reversed with soya. The three Canadian types give an average protein content of 36-37% with 18-19% oil.

Previous lack of UK interest in soya is because of fears of it failing to ripen. Earlier maturity is the key objective of the companys Canadian breeders.

"Soya needs to accumulate heat units, its total requirement is similar to a medium maturity maize hybrid, but it is daylight sensitive and shortening days are needed to trigger flowering. Canadian types which do well in Austria look capable of flowering sufficiently early here to ripen in time for a desiccated crop to be combined in early to mid September in most seasons," says Mr Stainthorpe.

Experience on the continent suggests the three in trial should yield 3-4t/ha (24-32cwt/acre).

The field trials, which range in size up to 3ha (7.5 acres) span the most suitable production areas which are likely to be in the maize area south of a line between the Wash and Bristol Channel.

This season has not been particularly good for soya because there has been a lack of heat in May and June. But the Devon crop reached the 6-8 leaf stage within five weeks of drilling. "This season is a real test for soya and any sort of success will be good news. It is likely to be a lot warmer another season," says Mr Stainthorpe.

Three of Pioneers Canadian-bred non-GM soya varieties are on trial in the UK. Here, Devon farmer David Hawkins inspects part of a full field trial at Hayne Farm, Gittisham, near Honiton. Despite adverse conditions crop growth looks promising. Maturity in time for a reasonably early harvest is now the hope.

USGROWTHAREA

Only in 1909 did US farmers first try soya, initially as a forage source rather than ripe bean production. The commercial area grown increased modestly until 1940 when 800,000ha (2m acres) were grown. Over the next 30 years there was a 20 fold increase. This year 28.8m ha (72m acres) are being grown.