Winter beans made a greater profit than winter wheat in 2015, says Northamptonshire grower Peter Mee, due largely to the higher cost of blackgrass control in wheat.
Very high yields of varieties Honey and Wizard made the bean crop one of the best performers, bringing in a margin over variable and fixed costs of £321/ha, compared with just £74/ha from wheat.
“Blackgrass sprays have become a very high cost in the wheat crop. But as the beans are drilled later and ploughed in, they don’t incur the same costs,” he says.
Winter beans have been part of the rotation at Lyveden Farm, Nassington, just west of Peterborough, for some time and account for about 10% of the cropped area. It allows blackgrass to be sprayed off before planting in mid-October.
“We get on better with winter beans than the spring crop – they seem to work better and winter drilling suits the farm more,” he explains.
Winter beans tend to follow oilseed rape on the farm, and then provide a good entry for winter wheat.
Mr Mee has grown Honey for the past two years, alongside market leader Wizard, and has been impressed with its yield advantage.
“Honey has done very well on this farm. This year, we achieved yields of 6.4t/ha with a seed crop, which we were delighted with,” he says.
His crop of Wizard also performed well at 5t/ha. It’s a variety that has stood the test of time and always makes the grade for the human consumption market in the Middle East, so the premium is guaranteed, says Mr Mee.
Using higher seed rates for winter beans has been beneficial. Mr Mee uses guidance provided by seed supplier Wherry & Sons on higher plant populations, which has made a big difference to yields.
“We used to plant winter beans with a seed rate of 120kg/ha, but now we are using much more with rates of 200-230kg/ha,” he says.
Having tried out a cultivator drill, Mr Mee has gone back to ploughing them in.
“The reason for that is simple – we get better results. It also helps with blackgrass control,” he says.
Planting takes place by mid-October in most years so that the crop goes into the ground in good conditions.
“There is some flexibility with drilling date, but results on some of our land support the theory that it’s better to put them in well earlier on than to take a risk on the weather,” he says.
As expected, Honey was up to three weeks earlier to harvest than Wizard. The agronomy for both varieties was very similar throughout the growing season, with bruchid beetle damage kept down to 3-4%.
This autumn, Mr Mee has Honey, Wizard and Bumble in the ground, and is hoping for another good year.