Rising stars look for a break

22 January 2000




Rising stars look for a break

Break crops came under the microscope at the Association of Applied Biologists annual conference. Gilly Johnson gives an overview of R&D into a gamut of alternative options.

Navy beans and red kidney beans

GIVEN that canned imported baked and other beans are so popular, what a pity the crop – the dried Phaseolus bean – is proving tricky to commercialise in Europe. Lack of area support by the EU is a major factor; these beans are excluded from aid, even as a protein crop.

Lobbying for a change of rules in Brussels has so far failed. Cambridge-based plant breeder Dr Colin Leakey (below) of Peas and Beans is the acknowledged expert on Phaseolus beans, and he blames vested US commercial interests for the block on CAP support.

But if the situation were to change, there are promising new varieties waiting in the wings, which were bred by Dr Leakey with UK conditions in mind. He is also investigating crop management, including harvesting techniques which dont involve direct combining. In the US, Phaseolus beans are normally mechanically pulled or "rodded" at high moisture content, and then picked up and threshed from swathes after short-term field curing.

This reduces damage, and allows earlier harvesting, says Dr Leakey. A similar principle is being applied to bean production in Jersey, where a specially-built "Hariston" bean rodder lifts crops which are planted in spaced beds. The combine then picks up from a windrow after several days curing.

Dr Leakey is currently exploring organic Phaseolus bean production, and is willing to share his experience with anyone interested.

&#8226 EU area support: No

&#8226 Verdict: Rank outsider at present. The demand is there, but dried Phaseolus beans need either area aid, or a substantial organic premium, to be competitive with other break crops. Weed control could be a headache – limited range of approved products.

Soya

SOYAS future in the UK depends on new varieties, climatically suited to our conditions, and ready buyers. Edward Willmott of Robin Appel is exploring the development of northern soya varieties. Sowing date, row spacing, fertiliser, disease and weed management are under investigation.

&#8226 EU area aid: yes, as an oilseed

&#8226 Verdict: Bullish front-runner, thanks to feed buyers looking to source non-GM soya. New varieties appear to suit UK climate and are harvested from mid-September.

Sunflowers

STILL on the sidelines, yet still with potential: sunflowers are the eternal Cinderella break, it seems. Late maturity, bird predation, difficulties with herbicides – not insurmountable hurdles, yet the crop has failed to attract mainstream growers. Dr Alastair McCartney of IACR Rothamsted reported on previously unpublished early husbandry work done by Val Church prior to her retirement. Theres nothing new on sowing dates (early variety Avante should be sown about 25 April to ensure harvest by early/mid-September), but there is data to show that sunflower seed grown under cool UK conditions has higher linoleic content in the oil, which enhances nutritional quality.

&#8226 EU area support: yes, as an oilseed

&#8226 Verdict: The UK may not be able to rival Spain for sunshine but it looks as though our sunflower oil may be of a superior quality. If buyers rewarded this with a premium, then sunflowers could be more attractive.

Lupins

WINTER sown, "sweet" determinate dwarf white lupins are the rising star within potential breaks, thanks to high protein (up to 44%) and the ability to replace imported soya in animal feed.

Variable yields have been the problem up to now, but research by Dr Ian Shield (below) of IACR Rothamsted points to a solution: sow in the second half of September to ensure there are enough branches formed for maximum yield: between 4 and 5. If the autumn is unusually warm, theres a danger of too many branches, and resultant lodging; however the new dwarf varieties are more lodging resistant.

Lupins are pH sensitive and will not grow in alkaline soils above pH6.5 – as yet. Calcium tolerance has been identified as a trait and its possible that a pH tolerant variety might be achievable in five years time, suggests Dr Shield.

&#8226 EU area support: yes, as a protein crop

&#8226 Verdict: Worth a gamble for the future, if you can bear a degree of risk. Lupins are in the protein crop area support scheme, and good progress is being made on those see-saw yields; a realistic target would be 4t/ha.

Beware – two new diseases have emerged: black root rot, which is known on other pulses, and a new isolate of phoma.

Camelina

THIS is a specialist oil crop grown under premium buy-back contracts. NIABs Neil Pearsons four-year trial programme reveals:

* either spring or autumn sowing produces comparable yield;

* frost just after sowing may be dangerous so aim to plant mid-Oct or or mid to late April

* seed rate of between 5-7kg/ha could be increased, but lodging risk rises

* trifluralin is the herbicide of choice; volunteer rape could be a problem

&#8226 EU area aid: no

&#8226 Verdict: Although very small seeded, Camelina doesnt shed and so you dont lose much of the expensive seed at harvest. Niche market, high value – at a crop price of £200-250/t, Camelina would outperform winter rape.

Evening primrose

THIS is a biennial plant that can be sown either in winter or spring. But which route is best for yield? Andrew Fieldsend, formerly of Scotia Pharmaceuticals, has the answer.

His research shows that although the over-wintered crop might appear to have the greater yield potential thanks to capturing more light energy, in practice yield potential works out at more than 2t/ha for both. Thats because the winter-sown crop channels more energy into parts of the plant other than seed yield. On balance, he says its best to sow in early spring. &#8226 EU area support: no

&#8226 Verdict: Niche high value premium oilseed crop for the specialist, grown on buy-back contracts. Small seeded, relatively pest and disease free – sow in early spring.

Winter linseed

ITS ironic: the linseed area went up to an all time UK record – over 200,000ha – in 1999, the year when news first broke that area support was to be scaled back. So has the development of winter linseed, with its higher yield potential and earlier, more manageable harvest, come too late in the day?

Not necessarily. High yielding crops of winter linseed may still stack up in the post-Agenda 2000 scenario as an alternative to oilseed rape, says David Turley (below) of ADAS High Mowthorpe. Returns from a 2.2t/ha (0.9t/acre) winter linseed crop will match that from a spring oilseed rape break under the 2002 support regime, he predicts. This sum uses a linseed price of £110/t. But the best growers are seeing yields well above this threshold, at 3t/ha (1.2t/acre).

Could winter linseed ever match winter rape? Only if yield potential could be taken even further – up to 3.75t/ha (1.5t/acre), speculates Mr Turley. Not an impossible target, but more work on plant populations and management would be needed, he says.

Winter linseed requires more care. The mysterious and little known fungal disease pasmo has been pinpointed as cause of serious yield losses (up to 50%) in some crops in some years, according to Dr Sarah Perryman (pictured) of IACR Rothamsted.

Interim results show that fungicides can cure the problem. Effective strategies include a single spray with benomyl at flowering, or an autumn tebuconazole with a carbendazim-type follow-up at flowering.

Pasmo symptoms may start on the cotyledon, and then spotting spreads from the leaves to the plant stem and capsules. The critical time is April/May – high rainfall is associated with disease explosion.

Although described as a seed-borne disease in the literature, she has yet to find any evidence of this in practice. Work continues.

&#8226 EU area support: Yes, but dropping to oilseed level

&#8226 Verdict: Winter linseed may remain in the frame for producers who are confident they can achieve top yields – at least as an alternative to spring rape. But its not for the casual grower – the crop needs more TLC than the low input spring version.

Lentils

A BETTER break than peas, at least as far as the fertility boost to the following wheat crop. Thats the verdict on winter lentils from Reading Universitys David Crook (below). The benefit seems to come from the nitrogen fixation legacy, and the fact that the haulm is incorporated back into the soil; so might lentils be particularly useful within an organic rotation?

For the lentils themselves, three winter varieties (two from the US, one from Syria) were trialled. Lentils have also been studied at the Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO) at Thornaugh; top yield so far is 2.7t/ha (1.1t/acre). Imports total 14,000t/year.

&#8226 EU area support: yes, as a protein but at a lesser rate

&#8226 Verdict: Outside chance. One to watch – potential for buy-back contracts. Support is only at about half the rate of peas and other pulses. Herbicides will need care; lentils are short and so do not compete well with tall weeds.


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