7 February 1997

Lincs estate finds traceable protein in home-grown beans

Few farmers grow and feed their own protein. But it could be one way to counter rising protein costs and the recent controversy over protein sources for animal feed. Emma Penny reports

HOME-GROWN beans form an important part of the ration for 500 sucklers and their offspring on one Lincolnshire unit.

Growing part of the herds protein needs allows Charles Dobson, South Elkington Estates, Louth, to cut feed costs. He can also guarantee complete traceability of at least some of the protein he feeds.

For finishing bulls, home-grown winter beans are included in the complete diet mix at up to 1kg a head a day, alongside up to 1.75kg maize gluten. The aim is for a protein content of 17% and a target daily liveweight gain of 1.8kg a head.

Home-grown barley, fed at 4.2kg a head a day, 1.5kg chopped straw and 1.4kg pot ale are also included in the mix. Heifers receive a similar mix, with both beans and maize being fed at 0.8kg a head a day alongside 3.2kg barley, 1.5kg chopped straw and 8kg silage.

"I do not know how much I am saving by growing some of our protein requirements. I would otherwise buy soya, which would be fed at a lower inclusion rate, but there must be savings on haulage and importers costs," says Mr Dobson.

Beans fit in well with the farm rotation, enabling Mr Dobson to continue to grow high yielding first wheats. But beans are also easy and reasonably cheap to grow – input costs are about £65/ha (£26/acre) at South Elkington, he says. "We home-save seed, which I reckon costs about £30/ha. We use a winter variety because it is often difficult to get on our heavy land in spring to produce a seed-bed."

The beans are broadcast on stubble at the end of October, then ploughed in and power harrowed. The seed rate depends on thousand grain weight, but was about 175kg/ha (3.3cwt/acre) this year.

"Sowing any earlier would lead to a forward crop which would be susceptible to frost. Forward crops are also more prone to the fungal disease chocolate spot, which occurs in spring."

Weeds are kept down with pre-emergence simazine (Gesatop), which cost Mr Dobson £2.30/ha (£1/acre). This may be followed by fluazifop-P-butyl (Fusilade) if weeds pose a particular problem.

A fungicide against chocolate spot carbendazim (Bavistin) is applied in early May at £4.70/ha (£1.90/acre) with the insecticide triazophos (Hostathion) against aphids. A further fungicide is applied in June, a mix of Bavistin and chlorothalonil (Bravo).

"After that, the beans are generally left until harvest, when a desiccant such as Challenge may be used if the crop is open and there is a lot of rubbish in it. Yields on our heavy land should be at least 3.5t/ha, but heavy frosts last year led to yields of only 2.3t/ha," explains Mr Dobson.

Harvesting is usually easy, though he admits it is hard on the combine. "After harvest, we dry the beans to about 14% if needed, then they are stored until needed. We usually mill enough for a week." &#42

Home-grown beans guarantee traeability of some of the protein fed to cattle at South Elkington Estate. They also allow feed costs to be cut.