3 September 1999

PULSES SET FOR REVIVAL?

When Agenda 2000 was

finalised, many said peas

and beans were heading for

a fall. But some growers

stood by the crops, and

with oilseed rape at

£100/t still more are

taking interest.

Andrew Swallow reports

PULSES produce margins to match the best breakcrops, and reduce fixed costs, say growers.

And that was before the crash in oilseed rape prices.

One such grower is William Ward, who farms from Brook End farm, Keysoe, Beds. Beans, usually spring beans, have always had a place on his 1200ha (3000-acre) of arable land. Now peas are back in the rotation too.

"We used to grow them but stopped due to combining difficulties. They were not combine friendly with the wider tables on modern machines," he says.

Oilseed rape and beans became the standard breakcrops. But drilling oilseed rape, the late harvest of beans, and moves to establish wheat earlier were creating unreasonable workloads. "And economically oilseed rape was becoming less attractive," he adds.

So, in the second week of March this year, 40ha (100 acres) of Espace were planted on the Hanslope series, boulder clay soil. "They were not drilled in the best of conditions, but we are very pleased with them. Combining losses were minimal and they yielded 2.5t/acre."

The gross margin from the crop has been significantly higher than oilseed rape or beans (see table), and by early August the land was ready to drill, before any wheat had been cut on the farm.

Mr Wards crop of Espace was on seed contract, but even if they sold for feed at £70/t, and oilseed rape rallied to £150/t, peas would be planted next spring. "We accept that this has been a good year for growing peas, but now they are combine friendly I would be happy to stay with them," he says.

Slug problems are less after peas than oilseed rape, and usually there is more nitrogen residue after a good pea crop, he says.

Despite no irrigation, beans prove a reliable crop at Brook End. "About 1.5t/acre has been our lowest yield, and they have done up to 2t/acre. The varieties are more consistent than they used to be, and our management is better."

Spring varieties are preferred to winter types. Although harvest date is similar getting all the wheat drilled in October is challenge enough without adding beans to the autumn workload, he says.

"We have tried ploughing winter beans in, but that has resulted in some pretty poor crops and rough combining conditions. And blackgrass is another incentive to have a spring crop in the rotation."

Scirocco is the current bean variety, sold for feed or human consumption. They are drilled as early as possible in February. Peas will go in on better draining soils a little later.

"We shall prepare the pea land a bit differently this year – plough and subsoil in September, leaving it open to over-winter. Then we should only need to flick the top off and drill it.

"With peas I think the seed bed conditions are more important than actual drilling date," he adds.

Neither crop receives any phosphate or potash as a rule. "We have fairly good phosphate and potash levels here anyway, and we keep the fertiliser fairly high on the cereals."

Despite the single cereal and oilseed payment under Agenda 2000, Mr Ward is committed to keeping a range of breakcrops in his rotation. "Farm produce markets have gone global, with less and less protection. Mono-culture has become a risky business."

Plenty of room to expand pulse output

WITH oilseed rape at about £105/t, and area aid payments on the crop far from certain, is there a danger of a swing to peas and beans that will saturate pulse markets next harvest?

According to the Processors and Growers Research Organisation, and the British Edible Pulse Association, that is unlikely.

"There is a 0.5mt shortfall in the production of UK-produced vegetable protein," says PGROs Geoffrey Gent. "We would be able to use up to 1.25mt."

Provisional figures for 1999 put the pulse area at 220,000ha (540,000 acres), which should produce about 0.75mt in total, says Mr Gent. Even a 20% increase on that would only take production to 0.9mt.

"But I dont think that is likely," says BEPA vice president Andy Donald of Dalmark Grain. He reckons a 5-10% increase in pulses is probable, at the expense of oilseed rape and linseed.

Novartiss national oilseed rape survey results seem to support his estimate. The survey (Arable July 30) found an 8%, or 44,000ha (109,000 acre) decrease in oilseed rape is planned by growers this autumn. Of that area, 29%, or 13,000ha (32,000) will be replaced by a pulse crop, growers said. That would be a 6% increase in the pulse area.

However, BEPA chairman and United Oilseeds director John Manners feels the Novartis figures are conservative. "I think the area of oilseed rape will go down by more than 8% – more like 15%." Recent weather delays to harvest could increase that decline, he adds.

Feed and export markets could move any increase in pea and bean production, but pea growers aiming for human consumption markets could be disappointed. "If you are going to grow marrowfats, make sure you have a contract," he advises.

For budget purposes a feed pea or bean price equal to wheat for harvest 2000 is advised. "Personally I think there will be a small premium – I cant see them being less than wheat," Mr Manners concludes. &#42