27 September 1996

Winter bean feast?

WINTER beans look set for a comeback this autumn as prices remain high and yields please across most of the country.

"More winter beans will be drilled this autumn than for some time, particularly on East Anglias heavy-land farms," predicts Geoffrey Gent, director of the Processors and Growers Research Organisation.

Drought-hit spring crops are part of the reason. But buoyant demand for cost-effective alternatives to imported soya to meet the needs of feed compounders after the BSE scare is another reason.

That view is echoed by PGRO chairman, Mike Bearman, of PBI Cambridge. He believes demand for UK sourced vegetable protein is 50% under-supplied. "Currently winter beans account for over 70,000ha. I believe they could easily increase to the 90,000ha grown in 1993."

But varietal choice is limited, with just four on the NIAB recommended list. Bourdon was first listed in 1986 and Punch two years later. Striker first appeared in 1994 and the provisionally recommended Target was listed this year.

"Targets arrival was a breakthrough, as it has a significantly higher yield than existing varieties," says NIAB bean specialist Simon Knightley. "It rates 104 for yield compared with the 101 for Punch, 99 for Bourdon and Strikers 97."

The variety combines high yield with a rating of 8 for standing power, the best on the list. It has moderately short straw and is early ripening. A possible weakness is susceptibility to ascochyta.

&#8226 Yields and prices good.

&#8226 Spring crop drought-hit.

&#8226 Compounder demand.

&#8226 30% extra area forecast.

&#8226 Variety choices limited.