21 November 1997

HIGH SOYA PRICES PROMPT A BASH AT SPRING BEANS

By Peter Grimshaw

THERE were some nail-biting days in late August when it seemed the spring beans would never be dry enough to combine at J A W Bendall & Sons New Farm, Marksbury, Bath, Wilts.

Then the weather came right. A 17-18t crop was harvested from the 4ha (10 acres) of Alfred.

It is a mixed farm of steep banks with stone brash and a variety of soil types. Half of the total of just over 160ha (400 acres) is in grass and 20ha (50 acres) of forage maize; the rest is down to arable crops.

Last year, the Bendalls were dismayed by the price they were asked to pay for soya when it reached nearly £300/t. It was used in the total mixed ration for their 135-cow Holstein Friesian herd, averaging 9300 litres a head.

First attempt

This years beans are the first attempt at growing a protein crop and the decision was finally triggered by an over-abundance of grass last spring.

"We could have put in some spring wheat, but we had another look at the price of soya, and at that time it was going through the roof again," says Stephen Bendall. "We thought wed try some beans."

At the end of March they ploughed out an old, couch infested ley and drilled the crop in mid-April with an air seeder, after power harrowing. "We put plenty of pressure on the tines, to get them in about an inch deep," Mr Bendall recalls. The aim was to avoid late spring frosts.

The Alfred seed, chosen for no better reason than that it was the only variety available, was drilled at the rate of 250kg/ha (2cwt/acre) and cost £79/ha (£32/acre).

Fertiliser use was 250kg/ha (2cwt/acre) of 0:24:24 compound, at a cost of £15/ha (£6/acre). Gamma-HCH (Gamma-Col) was applied to protect against leatherjackets.

Weed control was using cyanazine plus pendimethalin (Bullet).

The only real surprise was the need to spray with pirimicarb (Aphox) against black fly and then, later, with mancozeb (Fubol) against chocolate spot and downy mildew. "I was always under the impression that these were both winter bean problems," admits Mr Bendall.

Dried down

The beans were dried down to 16% moisture content from nearer to 20% off the combine. This presented a few problems with the drier, resulting in some bent auger flights. Because drying beans is a slow process, Mr Bendall hopes that he will not have to put them over the drier again. He recognises that they can be tricky to store if too moist, and difficult to grind with his hammer mill if too dry.

The 1997 crop will be fed to stale milking cows at 1.5kg/head/day, based on an estimated digestible crude protein content of 25% – compared with soya at 45% crude protein.

Fresh calvers will receive 2kg of beans and 2.5kg of protein balancer daily. About 0.5kg of protein blend will also be included with the ration to provide some extra by-pass protein.

In most seasons, the forage element of the ration is made up of 60% grass silage and 40% maize silage, on a dry matter basis. Some Sodagrain, molasses and a small amount of fishmeal complete the bulk ration, and a little concentrate is also fed in the parlour.

Although soya prices have now declined from the high levels of last winter, they were trading forward at harvest time for well over £200/t, with £230 quoted for spot delivery.

Half values

That compares with beans at less than half these values. The higher inclusion rate for beans results in a roughly equivalent replacement value of wheat or other energy food, giving a further small saving.

"Im still not sure what the economic return will be, as much will depend on the way soya prices move during the winter," comments Mr Bendall.

So will they grow beans again next year? He is still not sure. "If we do, it might not necessarily be just to get cheaper protein. More probably it will be winter beans, and we will be doing so partly to try to get a good entry for a first wheat crop." &#42

NEW FARM BEANS, 1997

Yield,t/ha (acre) 4.5 (1.8)

Estimated value

@ £105/t £472 (£189)

Seed cost £79 (£32)

Fertiliser £15 (£6)

Sprays £100 (£40)

*Costs do not include cultivations, harvest and drying costs or area payment

Dismayed by the soya price, the Bendalls decided to grow spring beans for their high yielding herd.