26 September 1997

UK soya beans could go north to the Wash

FIRST commercial crop of soya beans to be harvested in the UK since the war was cut last Monday at A D Walters Manor Farm, Hayling Island, Hants.

Ready markets and a good return mean it is unlikely to be the last, says the merchant developing the crop. Indeed the area planted with new cold-tolerant varieties could extend to the Wash.

The desiccated 6ha (15 acre) crop was easy to combine, says grower Simon Walters. "We didnt know what to expect. The crop leant a bit before harvest, but it stayed off the ground. It was easier to cut than peas."

The variety, un-named to maintain confidentiality, was drilled on Apr 30 and yielded 3.33t/ha (1.35t/acre). "That seems pretty good for a first attempt. At those sort of yields and a price of £190/t, it is on a par with oilseed rape, and will certainly outperform peas," says Mr Walters.

Harvest date holds few worries, he adds. "The end of September is often good for us here. The crop seems like it is growing on sticks, so it doesnt take much drying." Despite earlier heavy dews, moisture content was 17.5%. The crop will be dried to 14%.

"It was a nice, bright sample. The crop shows a lot of promise. It is not genetically modified, so it could also find a useful niche market as a health food, and being home-grown it offers complete traceability," Mr Walters notes.

Area of the new cold-tolerant variety is set to grow steadily over the next few years, says Edward Willmott, technical director with Hants merchant Robin Appel, the company promoting the crop.

"The EU imports 14m tonnes a year so there is no shortage of markets." The crop is suited to animal feed and human consumption outlets, and growers will be paid the world price less haulage, he adds. "We grew two 15 acre blocks this year, and we are looking for up to 300 acres next season. In theory it could be grown as far north as the Wash."n

Robert Harris

New cold-tolerant soya beans for combining have the makings of a good alternative break for UK arable growers, says Edward Willmott of merchant Robin Appel (left). Simon Walters crop yielded 3.3t/ha this week.