2 November 2001

Mainstream potential for soya

By Andrew Swallow

WITH all but a handful of crops harvested soya has shown its potential to become a mainline UK crop, say distributors.

Robin Appel reports yields of 1.8-3.5t/ha (15-28cwt/acre) for its Northern Conquest and Northern Star varieties, while Soya UK says 2.5t/ha (20cwt/acre) was typical with its 600ha (1500 acres), mainly of coded variety K98.

About 90 growers produced 1800ha (4450 acres) of RAs varieties. Earlier this week all bar three had combined their crops, says product development manager Chris Spedding.

That contrasts with last year when of 1200ha (2970 acres) sown about 10% was never harvested. One grower persevering this year was David Bury, from Pensham in the Vale of Evesham.

"We got on quite well but not so well last year – I think we were a bit over ambitious then," he says.

Of his 12ha (30 acres) in 2000, 2ha (5 acres) was never harvested and 4ha (10 acres) was cut very wet, very late, off heavy land.

This years 7ha (18 acres) of Northern Conquest, all on lighter land, combined easily at 14.5% moisture in early October giving about 2.5t/ha (20cwt/acre). A similar area is planned for next spring.

"It replaces oilseed rape in the rotation on our lighter sugar beet land."

For Cambs grower Clive Martin this was his first year with soya. "We jumped in at the deep end and grew 110 acres. Weve grown a lot of French beans in the past so we knew we could get the seed-bed right."

The gamble paid off, Northern Conquest yielding 2.7t/ha (22cwt/acre) off mineral land and Northern Star 3.1t/ha (25cwt/acre) from organic soil. Both were cut on Oct 1. "They would have been ready two weeks before but we just couldnt get at them."

Assuming they pass for seed, earning a £40/t premium over a probable base price of £160/t, Mr Martin calculates together they will average £560/ha (£227/acre) gross margin.

"Compared to dried peas that is considerably better."

GM-free status earns UK-grown soya a £5-10/t premium at present. But Mr Spedding believes UK growers can compete on a world-market basis regardless of that and anticipates a four to five-fold increase in crop area next spring.

"Growers want to replace oilseed rape with something else in the rotation and soya has the potential to do that. We can get higher yields than the US and Brazil without the haulage so surely we can compete."

NIABs Tim Green is more cautious. "My view is there is some potential, but growers should also be aware of the risk – the potential for a very late harvest in changeable weather. Apart from that the crop is easy to grow and, weed control aside, it is low input." &#42

SOYA HARVEST

&#8226 Yields 1.8-3.5t/ha.

&#8226 Most crops cut early October.

&#8226 Margins to match or beat peas?

&#8226 NIAB/NL data available in New Year.

Soya on trial

United Oilseeds also had about 200ha (500 acres) of soya on a "trials and evaluation" basis last summer. Some yields topped 2t/ha but 1.7-1.8t/ha was typical. "Remember our varieties are much earlier," says R&D manager Ashleigh Tucker. Seed growers are being sought for next year.

Soya looks set to figure in more spring cropping agendas after a better season than in 2000.