29 January 1999

Sun-loving soya crop survives a heavy soaking

By Andrew Blake

ENGLISH grown soya performed remarkably well last year in conditions far from suitable for the sun-loving crop.

But variety choice appears critical if growers are to reap the full benefits of this pulse competitor in kinder seasons.

Edward Willmott, technical director of Hants merchant Robin Appel says 1998 was an "annus horribilis" for all spring breaks including soya. But the first variety from the firms Russian-bred Northern Soya programme, said to be specifically adapted to UK day length, came through well, albeit with yields lower than hoped.

Average output, at an estimated 1.7t/ha (14cwt/acre), was financially more rewarding than 2.5t/ha (1t/acre) of combining peas, says Mr Willmott. "Despite adverse weather the quality was good and fulfilled market requirements. We have proved that in the wettest and dullest summer for a generation it is not a miracle crop, but it is certainly well in the frame. If you can succeed in 1998 you can succeed in any year.

"In a more typical summer we expect yields to be back up to the expected 1-1.5t/acre, depending on site fertility. And we can certainly stand by our claim to a safe September harvest." But desiccation is likely to be the norm in future, he admits.

One stablemate of Northern Conquest, last years variety, is ten days earlier to ripen, he notes. A cautious approach to herbicide use, generally applying half- doses of off-label products, was surprisingly successful, reports Mr Willmott. "We were pleased with weed control and learned a lot. We were concerned for crop safety so we typically used half rates. In future we hope to use three- quarters or full rates."

Arable Research Centre trials in Hants highlighted a wide range of maturity and yield in seven Canadian and French soya varieties. The May 11 sown experiments were much more encouraging than those of seven years ago, notes senior trials officer Benedicte Gauthe. "The 1991 ones were an absolute flop and did not even get combined.

"One of the biggest problems with soya is that it depends so much on the weather. Last summer was awful. We were hoping to harvest by September. But unfortunately we were delayed until Oct 29, after desiccating on Sept 29."

Top ARC performer, Montir from Pioneer, was just about fit to harvest by the desiccation date, eventually giving 1.26t/ha (10.2cwt/acre), reports Miss Gauthe. "The pods shattered quite well and the seed wasnt squashed." Next best was Casimir, also from Pioneer, on 1.08t/ha (8.7cwt/acre).

Rusticas French-bred types were less fruitful, Pronto in particular delivering only 0.6t/ha (4.9cwt/acre) in the small replicated plots. Weed competition on the old airfield site was not to blame, she notes.

"Conditions were far from perfect last year, but we are pleased that we have shown there are big differences between varieties." The work was useful enough to prompt a repeat this season. "We certainly need more information and we hope the weather will be kinder.