19 August 1997

Home-grown soyabeans back on the map in UK

Home-grown soya could offer better traceability of livestock feeds and reduce protein costs. Sue Rider reports

DESPITE difficult growing conditions and limited experience of the crop, soyabeans will soon be harvested for the first time for many years on a British farm.

Leics grower Wil Armitage, who manages the 393ha (970-acre) Keythorpe Lakes Farm at Tugby for Peter Dixon-Smith, is keen to boost the levels of home-grown protein fed to the farms 146 cows.

Its not just the increased traceability of protein sources that is encouraging Mr Armitage to grow more of his own; his enthusiasm is fuelled by the high cost of imported proteins, too. And hes not alone in his interest for growing soya.

"Interest in the crop is phenomenal – Ive been contacted by vegetarians who would like seed to grow in their gardens and by Marks & Spencer who would like British soya to feed to British beef so it can put totally traceable British beef on its shelves," he says.

That scenario is some way off, he stresses, but earlier and more cold tolerant soyabean varieties are becoming available, which means it will be possible to grow them further north. That said, Keythorpe Lakes, where achieving consistent results with maize is difficult, still isnt an ideal site for the crop. Despite this, Mr Armitage drilled 1ha (2.5 acres) of soyabeans on May 1.

"Considering the summer weve had, and that the crop is on an exposed site 165m (540ft) above sea level, Im pleased with how its performed."

He sought guidance from Simon Broddle of Nickersons Seeds on variety choice and agronomy – about which little is known in the UK – the last time the crop was grown was during the war.

Mr Armitage grew Major, the earliest maturing variety with lowest heat unit requirement – an important decision for growers in the UK.

Preparation

Seed-bed preparation is also important because, as a spring sown crop and a legume, soyabeans prone to soil-borne diseases.

The advice is to drill the seed at a depth of 2.5cm (1in) at a rate of 1.5m seeds/ha (600,000/acre). Mr Armitage drilled at two widths – 20cm (8in) and 41cm (16in) – this year but will chose the wider spacing next year to speed maturity.

Good establishment is important to reduce competition from weeds.

The crop at Tugby germinated well but was attacked by bean seed fly larvae within 14 days which knocked establishment to just 50%, says Mr Armitage. "Weeds then became a problem in some areas because we didnt have the cover."

He believes use of a post-emergence herbicide – Basagran or Laser – next year should help control weeds. But key will be improving crop establishement; with hindsight an insecticide worked into the seed-bed before drilling would have prevented bean seed fly damage.

Nitrogen is not needed other than a small dressing – about 20-30kg/ha (16-24 units/acre) – to boost establishment in spring. Soyabeans are pH tolerant but do require reasonable levels of potash.

Harvest is planned in about three weeks. Yields in the USA average about 2.5t/ha (1t/acre). "I dont see why – if we get the agronomy right – we cant improve on that."

Low levels of toxins in the soyabeans mean that they must be treated before feeding to stock. Mr Armitage plans to caustic treat them before inclusion in the ration for the 11,000kg-plus herd.

The full fat soya should produce a bean with a protein content similar to that of soyabean meal at 40% but with a higher energy value at 16 ME compared with 13.5 ME, and because its whole soya its oil content is high at 18-20% as against 1.77%.

He expects costs for the homegrown soya to be £120 compared with imported soyabean meal trading at over £220/t. Other advantages include arable area aid at the oilseeds rate and a 12t/ha (5t/acre) crop of wheat next year, says Mr Armitage.

&#8226 Keen to know more about home-grown soyabeans? Contact the Soyabean Association, set up by Wil Armitage (0116-2598464) and Simon Broddle (01858-432945).n

Will Armitage and Simon Broddle – high hopes for home-grown soya.