Soya may be set for a UK take-off with varieties from East
By Charles Abel
IS soya set for success as a viable alternative break crop in southern England? One company with over 120ha (300 acres) of the protein and oil producing crop in the ground this year reckons it is.
"We could have sold the seed five or six times over, there was that much interest from growers wanting an alternative break crop," says Edward Willmott of Hants-based merchant Robin Appel.
Variety is key to the crops success, he says. Previous attempts foundered because varieties either matured too late or were poorly adapted to UK day length, delaying flowering and seed set until too late in the summer for a high yield.
"North American varieties are good and can be very early maturing, but were bred for more southern latitudes. We now have material bred by Soyanorth in Belorussia for the same latitude as the UK," says Mr Willmott.
Varieties were first selected four years ago and MAFF has backed official trials at Wye College in Kent. Crops sown into a good, warm seed-bed in late April/early May mature in time for a September harvest. Mr Willmott distances grain soya from forage soya. "People are trying it as a green forage on stock farms and we would support that. But it is not our goal.
"If you are below 200ft and south of a line from the Wash to the Severn, including East Anglia, soya can be a successful arable break crop, replacing peas and beans or spring rape."
UK demand is buoyant, he says. "We have animal feed outlets that will take all we can produce. We are also working with human consumption companies that are desperate for non-GM UK soya." Soya normally trades at a £15-£25/t premium over rapeseed, and attracts oilseeds area aid under IACS, he notes.
Last years crops yielded 3.3t/ha (27cwt/acre) on poor ground and 4t/ha (32cwt/acre) on better rape land. Growing costs are similar to rape, the expensive £150/ha (£60/acre) seed being offset by low fertiliser need, leaving a gross margin comparable with winter rape, notes Mr Willmott. This year 12 crops of 10ha (25 acres) each are being grown in Essex, Sussex, Hants, Bristol and Avon, Dorset and Somerset. Half will go for processing and half for seed.
Although current varieties are best suited to southern counties, new material could take the crop into East Anglia and further north, Mr Willmott suggests. "Varieties which are 10 days earlier maturing are in trials this year." *
• New varieties bred for UK conditions on farm now.
• 120ha crop for 98 harvest, 1200ha planned for 1999.
• New varieties flower and mature in time for UK.
• GM similar to winter rape.
• Over the coming months farmers weekly will monitor the progress of the UKs first commercial scale soya crops.
Soya enthusiast Simon Walter (left) of Manor Farm, Osier Dell, Hayling Island, Hants, was so impressed with it last year he planted 14ha this spring. Residual nitrogen left by the leguminous crop meantRialto needed half its usual N this spring, notes Edward Wilmott of UK agent Robin Appell.