Lupin lunacy legacy lost at last as new types look lucrative
By Edward Long
LUPINS have replaced linseed as the spring crop to follow late harvested carrots on a Norfolk farm for the first time this year.
And if the crop produces a higher gross margin than other spring break crops it could gain a regular slot in the rotation.
The commercial-scale trial saw 18ha (44 acres) drilled in late March into a low pH organic black sand on the 664ha (1640 acre) Marham Hall Farm at Marham near Kings Lynn.
"We have 350 acres of black sand some of which is let out each year for growing carrots. By the time we get it back it is usually too late for most spring crops," says farm manager Steve Bedingfield.
"Spring corn never finishes properly so is always a disappointment, peas and beans are not an option, sugar beet can only be grown if the land is treated with factory waste lime, and linseed is not sufficiently competitive to prevent the huge weed burden from swamping the crop. Apart from spring rape there is not much left."
Mr Bedingfield is keen to grow crops with a guaranteed market and snapped up the offer of a seed contract from local merchant Gorham & Bateson. He is also attracted by the low input requirement of the N-fixing crop, and its late August harvest which keeps the combine busy when wheat is done.
"It is a combinable crop, no extra equipment is needed and as well as spreading the workload at both ends of the season it also spreads risk. We are hoping to combine 1.5-2t/acre in late August."
Price should be £15-20/t more than peas and beans, plus a seed premium. With area aid of at least £297/ha (£120/acre) that should give a better gross margin than linseed, spring cereals, or even sugar beet if any C quota beet is involved and the price is as bad as last season, says Mr Bedingfield.
"Growing 44 acres for the first time is a lot for a trial. But because of the GM scare with imported soya the time now seems right for lupins.
"We resisted the temptation to try the crop during the lupin lunacy era 15-20 years ago. But now that improved varieties with real potential and a proven track record on the continent have appeared we decided to take the plunge. Now it up to us to grow a good crop."
Land was disced, rolled and packed in a single operation after carrot lifting. An application of 500kg/ha of a 0:15:30 compound fertiliser went on ahead of the power harrow/drill rig which started work two days before April Fools Day. The German variety Borweta, a small seeded Angustifolius blue lupin, went in at a seed-rate of 100kg/ha (90lbs/acre).
A single pre-emergence dose of Stomp (pendimethalin) should control broad-leaved weeds with Roundup (glyphosate) added to hit annual meadow-grass.
The land is normally manganese deficient so a close watch will be kept on the lupins and magnesium applied later in the season. *
• N fixed from atmosphere.
• Low input requirement.
• Ripen for late August harvest
• Yield 3.7-5t/ha.
• Area aid at least £300/ha.
• Cornwall to Borders.
Record area for lupins in UK
Lupins are likely to reach a record area in England and Wales this year, says Andrew Flux of merchant Gorham & Bateson. "Improved winter and spring types from France, Germany and eastern Europe now provide the crop with the best chance it has ever had of gaining a regular place in the rotation.
"We have between 3000 and 4000 acres going in this spring on farms from the tip of Cornwall to the Borders. There is no commercial acreage in Scotland because there is no area aid. But we have some trial crops going in." The Norfolk-based company has two determinate dwarf Angustifolius lupin varieties, Borweta and Bordako. Both are widely grown on the Continent where they mature in late August. The latest harvest in Denmark last year was in the first week of September.
After several years of development winter lupins also look set to expand later this year. "Currently there are about 300 acres of a white flowered albus type in the ground. But next autumn we expect 3000-4500 acres will be drilled," says Ray Starling of Cebeco Seed Innovations.
"The time is now right for lupins. Even if the GM scare had not occurred lupins would still have been competitive with imported soya." He says this is because UK produced lupins are fully traceable and there is no need for compounders to heat treat the seed to get rid of trypsin inhibitors, which is necessary with soya.
The company is also trialling a yellow flowered luteus spring type with protein level similar to a white flowered albus type. "Typically a luteus variety has a crude protein of 36-39% with 6% oil. This compares with 38-42% protein and 10% oil with albus, and 31-32% protein and 6% oil with an angustifolius type."