Peas and beans feel the pressure

Pulse markets are feeling the pressure, with limited export demand and strong competition from other suppliers, but the Processors and Growers Research Organisation is adamant the crop has a positive future.

“Interest in growing spring pulses remains high and has increased further recently after vining pea contracts for (Birds Eye) Lowestoft were withdrawn,” says PGRO chief executive Salvador Potter.

With some 4000ha in Norfolk and Suffolk open for alternative cropping, (Business, 12 February), he reckons the area will still be devoted to peas and beans, though drilling will be later as soil conditions are still wet. “The favoured alternative will be spring beans rather than peas,” he suggests.

The pulse market remains generally flat at the moment, halfway though the export season, though the weak pound against the euro is lending some support to UK values. Feed beans have slipped about £5/t to £131/t since the start of the year, though this has been less of a slide than for other feed grains.

There is also little interest from Egypt for human consumption beans and shipping of existing orders has slowed, while Sudanese export licences expire this month.

Canadian and US marrowfat peas are also bearing down on the market, while Canada is also supplying northern Europe with blue peas at very competitive prices.

And for yellow peas, good quality French material has been coming into the UK of late, as the domestic crop is pretty much traded out.

Despite the subdued market, analysts remain upbeat about the crop. Addressing a recent PGRO workshop, independent consultant Chris Anstey said pulses had a major contribution to make in terms of sustainable farming.

Food manufacturers were increasingly concerned about the integrity of the ingredients they used, he said, and due to their low carbon footprint and strong nutritional benefits, peas and beans were increasingly sought after.

They also had potential for novel uses. For example, pea flour could be used in batter to increase protein content, and in sausages to reduce fat. It was also a great alternative to wheat flour, for people in need of a gluten free diet.

Mr Potter said it was a concern that the UK pulse area had slipped over the years – especially peas – but there had been a resurgence last year on the back of the high fertiliser price. “We are hoping that we can sustain this improvement in 2010,” he said.

For a comment on peas and beans, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog

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