Winter beans bounced back this season with a 29% rise in the estimated 2014 harvest area to 35,000ha, boosted by the crop’s flexibility, low inputs and market demand, reports pulse crop specialist Wherry and Sons.
As with all winter-sown crops, the very difficult wet autumn of 2012 saw a reduction in the bean area to 25,000ha last year, says the company’s arable crops director Peter Smith, who adds that their current revival is not surprising.
“Winter beans have always been recognised as a good break crop option. Their current popularity is due to any or all of a number of factors, including their flexible drilling window, low input costs and strong market demand,” he says.
This season’s crop has established well, helped by mild winter weather. “Even winter beans that went into the ground in December are faring well, despite the amount of rainfall we’ve had since then,” he adds.
The best yields will come from beans sown in October or November, but providing higher seed rates are used when sowing is delayed, crop performance will still be respectable.
“There’s less branching with later drillings, so the seed rate should be increased,” he says.
This season many growers have been attracted to the crop by the opportunity it gives to control blackgrass in the rotation.
“They can be sown successfully from October right through until February, giving plenty of time to make best use of cultural weed control methods,” he adds.
“The fact that they bring in the opportunity to plough is also helpful in the battle against grassweeds,” Mr Smith says.
Furthermore, their low input costs compare very favourably with other break crops, most notably oilseed rape.
“There’s been a doubling in the costs of growing oilseed rape in the past 10 years. Beans don’t have the same requirements, nor do they need any nitrogen fertiliser,” he says.
A residual nitrogen benefit for the following crop is a further advantage, he remarks.
“Finally, we’re still seeing very strong export demand for large seeded beans, such as Wizard. They go into the split bean market for human consumption, and prices are set to remain firm going into harvest 2014,” he adds.