31 March 2000

New dawn for UK pulses?

By Andrew Blake

PULSE growers are well placed to take advantage of any supermarket crackdown on the use of GM crops in livestock feeds, say industry watchers.

While it would be unrealistic to expect premiums, UK peas, beans and lupins should find a more ready market if the screws are tightened, they believe.

Main debate now is how soon that may happen.

Some milk producers are being advised not to forward-buy feed which might contain GM ingredients in anticipation of such moves, notes Devon-based Mole Valley Farmers nutritionist Luppo Diepenbroek. "Compounders are paying a £16/t premium for non-GM soya, and with prices going up we are giving a concerted push to lupins." Mole Valley already has one compounding mill dedicated to producing non-GM feedstuffs for the growing organic market.

Hants merchant Robin Appel has seen a big lift in sowings of beans this season. The rise is mainly because they are cheap to grow. But a change of supermarket policies could also leave producers sitting on potentially more valuable crops, says the firms John Arnold.

"It only needs one of the major multiples to come out and say all the milk on their shelves comes from cows fed non-GM rations for there to be a useful knock-on effect."

"We would like to go GM-free on animal feed but only on the strict caveat that it involves no extra cost to farmers, customers or ourselves," says a Tesco spokesman.

The firms research into identity preservation of non-GM materials from Brazil is coming to an end. "It is clear some systems do not stand up to scrutiny."

Peas and beans account for up to 10% of BOCM Pauls pig finishing rations already. But they are not particularly cost-effective compared with US soya which may be from GM crops, says the companys John Boyd. "There is a possibility we would use more if the GM issue really took off."

Gerry Cook of Cebeco believes the scope for UK pulse growers is good. "We see opportunities for considerable growth in the incorporation of peas and beans into animal feed. But they are not a straight replacement for soya – only partial."

The GM issue is unlikely to bite until 2001, he says. "But it is probably wise advice for farmers not to buy GM feedstuffs."

UKASTAs Pamela Mounter has seen no evidence of an increased pulse area on the back of the GM debate. Compounders are non-committal about pulses, adds Stewart Johnson of Banks Agriculture.

"They do not want to pay any more than they can help." The current bean shortage is mainly due to good demand from Italy and Spain, he believes.

lPGROestimates for pea and bean areas should have read 80,000ha and 100,000ha, respectively, in last weeks issue (Mar 24, p56). &#42

PULSE PROSPECTS

&#8226 Non-GM soya alternatives.

&#8226 Livestock rations issue.

&#8226 Supermarkets influence.

&#8226 Exports strong.