17 July 1998

Set fair for British soya…

Soya could become a

profitable alternative to peas

for southern growers – if

suitable varieties can be

found and the agronomy

developed for the UK.

Andrew Swallow

investigates

the claims being made for

the crop

MERCHANT Robin Appel reckons UK soya production could climb to 50,000t by the year 2000, with premium markets for GM-free home-grown produce promising good gross margins.

Indeed strong gross margins could see the crop replace peas as a profitable break on southern farms. At a typical yield of 3.7t/ha (30cwt/acre) soya will return £682/ha, well ahead of a typical 5t/ha pea crop, notes Robin Appel.

Under-pinning such claims is the discovery of new day-length neutral varieties which are now being evaluated in the UK (Arable, May 29). Northern Conquest, the best of five varieties imported from Minsk in the former Soviet Union, looks promising, claims the company.

Over 100ha (250 acres) of seed crops are growing on 12 sites across the south of the country this year. The biggest lesson already learned is the importance of seed vigour to ensure good establishment, says technical director Edward Willmott.

"We should have had seed for 800 acres this year, but due to vigour failures we have only had seed for 300 acres." Seed is thiram treated to prevent damping off, and inoculated with rhizobium in the drill, because natural UK strains of the bacterium do not nodulate soya.

Target plant population is 80 plants/sq m. However, poor seedbed conditions in Essex this spring mean the crop there has only 40 plants/sq m. Branching is filling the gaps, notes Mr Willmott.

Drilling should not start until the soil is at least 9C (44F) and rising at a depth of 10cm (4in). That means late April or early May.

Pests and diseases so far have not been an issue, a fact confirmed by PGROs Anthony Biddle who is monitoring the 12 commercial crops. "There was a little pigeon, hare and slug grazing early on. But other than that the crops Ive seen are pest and disease free."

Northern Conquest harvest should be mid-September. But the Essex crop is unlikely to be ready until late September.

To even maturity where the crop has branched a desiccant will be used. But that should not normally be necessary, says Mr Willmott.

Yields for Northern Conquest should average 3.7t/ha (30cwt/acre). However, the patchy Essex crop is expected to do less. "A similar crop gave 27cwt/acre last year," notes Mr Willmott.

VARIETY CHOICE CRITICAL

Growers choosing Canadian types need to be aware that they do not match East European lines on maturity, warns Unilever Crop Scientist Alex ODell, who was involved in trials work while at Wye College. "Growers need the security of a forage use for the crop if they attempt to grow the Canadian types," he says. Subject to European varietal approvals, Northern Conquest will be launched for sowing next spring.

Gross margin analysis

Harvest 1999 Agenda 2000

Soya Peas Soya Peas

Yield (t/ha) 3.70 5.00 3.70 5.00

Price (£/t) 175.00 80.00 175.00 80.00

Output (£/ha) 647.50 400.00 647.50 400.00

Variable Costs (£/ha)

Seed 135.90 110.00 135.90 110.00

Fertiliser 52.43 25.00 52.43 25.00

Spray 71.82 89.00 71.82 89.00

Total variable costs 260.15 224.00 260.15 224.00

Gross margin (no area aid) 387.35 176.00 387.35 176.00

Area aid (£/ha) 295.00 385.00 308.88 339.30

Gross margin (£/ha) 682.35 561.00 696.23 515.30

Source: Robin Appel.