Cereals 2008: High nitrogen prices encourage pulses re-think

High nitrogen prices were encouraging more growers to look again at pulses, with the prospect of free N an attractive lure, according to Salvador Potter, chief executive of the Processors and Growers Research Organisation.


“There has been a sea-change in attitude towards pulses,” he reported. “And nitrogen is the hook. The high prices are encouraging growers to think again.


“We’ve particularly had interest from growers who came out of the crop three to five years ago, and switched to close wheat/oilseed rape rotations. They are now worried about club root and yields, but it is N that is tipping the balance.”


As well as saving on N inputs in the pulse crop, which could reduce N bills by at least £200/ha if the crop was grown in place of oilseed rape, pulses also contributed N to the following crop, he said. “Research suggests that there is about 40kg/ha residual N available to the following crop after peas and 50kg/ha after beans.”


Crop prices


At an ammonium nitrate price of £340/t that was worth £39-49/ha in fertiliser savings, he said.


The saving in N plus high pulse crop prices, particularly for marrowfat and blue peas, had pushed gross margins to above oilseed rape, according to PGRO figures. The organisation was suggesting gross margins of about £850/ha for marrowfats. £800/ha for blue peas and £625/ha of oilseed rape.


Mr Potter expected crop prices to remain high. “There is a world shortage for proteins.”


Egypt


A drought in Egypt could also mean a shortage in human consumption beans in the country, prompting an earlier export market from the UK, he suggested.


However, farmers hoping to grow pulses, especially peas, next season and wanting to use certified seed should get their orders in soon – supplies would be tight, Mr Potter warned. Firm markets for peas, especially for human consumption, and concern over the steep hike in nitrogen fertiliser prices had been reflected in a rush of enquiries. “We’ve been rushed off our feet,” he said.


There had been considerable interest from farmers wishing to return to pulses having dropped them four or five years ago, added colleague Anthony Biddle.


“Since then varieties have really moved on, particularly in peas where there’s been a revolution with good new ones of every type.”


NIAB‘s Simon Kightley noted that certified pea seed production had fallen by 33% between 2006 and 2007.