Variety-specific advice is the main feature of a new technical guide on growing winter beans, including higher target plant populations which can raise yields by up to 20% for shorter varieties.
The 28-page guide, which will be available to growers for the first time at Cereals, has been produced by pulse specialists Wherry & Sons, bringing together all of the most recent research findings on the crop, as well as the latest thinking on bean agronomy and marketing.
For growers, the ability to treat individual varieties differently and according to their agronomic strengths and weaknesses, rather than having to follow recommendations which relate to the winter bean crop as a whole, will be a considerable step forwards, explains Peter Smith, arable crops director at Wherry’s.
“Although there has been no shortage of good advice in recent years, there has been a tendency to treat the entire winter bean crop in the same way, using historical thresholds and guidance,” he says.
Not only are there distinct subtleties between varieties, there is new knowledge on how drilling date, seed rate and soil type can affect final results, as well as a better understanding of the crop establishment phase, he adds.
“Given the amount of work that’s being done and the investment going into the crop, it is a good time to refresh the guidelines and take some of the new findings out on to farm.”
These include new target plant populations for individual varieties – which are higher than previous levels – together with revised seed rates, as well as updated advice for later drilling dates.
In addition, the guide matches variety choice to agronomic type and soil type, using straw characteristics, maturity ratings and market suitability to help the decision process.
“Most growers are aware that they can grow for the export market or for feed,” continues Mr Smith. “But there are further choices within those markets, each of which has its own specific requirements.”
Very short, stiff varieties with early maturity, such as Honey and Sultan, are better on heavy or organic land which has a tendency to produce taller crops, he advises. “They are both suitable for the export market in some seasons.”
Wizard also performs well on heavy land, he adds. “It has medium-height straw, but good standing ability, and medium to early maturity. It is the preferred choice for the export market for splitting, as it has the best seed size.”
On lighter land, taller strawed varieties often do better. “Autumn establishment at a good sowing depth is important in this situation. Varieties such as Arthur Clipper and Buzz are more suitable – all of which are feed types.”
Recent trials work has demonstrated that higher yields are achieved when Wherry’s varieties are planted at higher seed rates, reports Mr Smith.
“Most varieties show a positive yield response to increased plant density, but the shorter, stiffer types are the most suited to this approach. It seems as though the ideal plant population is between 22 and 30 plants established, rather than the traditional 18 plants.”
Drilling winter bean varieties in the spring calls for higher plant densities, he notes. “You need to go up to between 30 and 40 plants/sq m, depending on soil conditions. It’s not unheard of, especially this year.”
New target plant populations
Clipper: 22 plants/sq m
Wizard and Arthur: 23-26 plants/sq m
Honey and Sultan: 28 plants/sq m
These figures apply to crops sown at the end of October. For November sowings, add 10%.
Breeding and research targets
Wherry & Sons has the UK’s only dedicated winter bean breeding programme, with three breeding stations in Dorset, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.
Work is being done to introduce varieties which help to solve some of the issues faced by bean growers, with the following characteristics being targeted:
- Resistance to stem nematode
- Reliability of flowers to set pods
- Reliability of yield in poor growing seasons
- Enhanced digestibility traits
Furthermore, digestibility is being addressed in the ProtYield collaborative research project, which aims to break the restrictive link that exists between protein content and yield.
Nematode resistance is the subject of a Technology Strategy Board (TSB) £0.5m research project, led by Wherry’s, which is investigating the potential of resistance found in exotic material.
Optibean is a £2m TSB project which is investigating the potential for beans to meet the demands for UK-sourced feed protein. The project also aims to deliver improved agronomy guidelines and make a contribution to the development of new varieties.