Winter pulses could present an opportunity

The recent trend of dry springs and an increasing oilseed rape area could see growers looking again at the opportunities that winter pulses offer this coming autumn.

“Prices for beans to harvest remain firm and, with a much increased oilseed rape area currently in the ground, the traditional break crops – like winter beans – will be required,” says Peter Smith of Wherry & Sons.

He adds that the more oilseed rape that is grown, the more issues, such as soil-borne pathogens like verticillium wilt, difficult blackgrass control and rising nitrogen prices, become problems.

“The wheat-rape rotation doesn’t work for everyone. Winter or spring beans have a place, and this year we’ve seen the benefits of autumn drilling.”

Winter beans can be sown anytime between October and December, and are cheap to grow – especially at current fertiliser prices, he says.

Market acceptability can be just as important as field performance with peas and beans, which is why growers shouldn’t be worried about sticking with known varieties, says Simon Kightley, oilseeds and pulses variety expert for NIAB TAG.

“The market-leading winter bean, Wizard, has been on the list since 2003,” he points out. “But it still makes a good choice, with its short, stiff straw and pale hilum, which is a prerequisite for the export market.”

Mr Smith adds: “The large grain size and pale skin means it’s popular with the export whole-bean market.”

Husky, however, has progressed from P1 to P2 recommendation and is now the highest-yielding winter bean at 104%, says Mr Kightley. “It’s a tall variety with rather weak straw, so it may be better on lighter soils. It also has a pale hilum.

“Interestingly, Husky has done well in drought conditions, which could become more relevant if the trend of dry springs continues.”

With spring beans, they must be established early if they are to withstand dry springs, advises Anthony Biddle of PGRO.

“Early planting is preferable in most years. For the last two seasons, crops sown from mid-February have been more able to take advantage of a well-developed root system and produced better yields and seed size.”

The spring bean list is topped by Fury at 109%, although Fuego remains the market leader, he says. “It has very good grain quality, even if yields are starting to fall behind.”

An alternative to these two is Babylon, which is new to the list and slightly lower yielding than Fury. “But it does have moderate resistance to downy mildew.”

One change has taken place to the combining peas list, with white-seeded Gregor gaining a full recommendation, says Mr Kightley.

“Gregor combines a high yield with good standing ability and a large grain size. It doesn’t yield quite as well as Mascara, which is the current market leader. Both are good choices.”

In the large blue category, Mr Kightley picks out Crackerjack, Daytona and Prophet. “Crackerjack offers the best yield and also has good standing ability, while Daytona has very good scores for standing ability and downy mildew resistance.” Prophet has the same yield potential as Daytona, he says.

In the specialist marrowfat pea sector, Mr Kightley highlights three varieties. Neon is a new marrowfat, with the highest yields. Sakura and Falstaff are both established choices – Sakura has good standing ability while Falstaff is suited to all markets.