The winter programme of grower meetings organised by PGRO (Processors & Growers Research Organisation) jointly with Syngenta has attracted big attendances at each of the five regional roadshow venues, underlining the interest in pulses for this year's spring drilling in particular.
Long-standing growers of peas and beans were joined by those wanting information on the agronomy and prospects for pulses and some who were coming back to the crops after a break.
The interest in spring cropping has been heightened considerably by the wet autumn, which has left many fields unsown that had been destined for winter cereals or oilseed rape.
Spring bean enthusiast Mark Wells, of Burbage Farms, Hinckley, Leicestershire, believes the crop brings his operations many benefits.
"They provide an excellent entry for oilseed rape in particular, and help to spread the workload, as they harvest later than cereals," he stated.
"They're easy to harvest, provide an opportunity to clean up grass weeds and, in our case, the over-wintered stubbles that form part of our Higher Level Scheme allow for February ploughing. Gross margins of £1109/ha for 2011 and £1162/ha last year are very pleasing results from a break crop."
Expressed fears of over-supply, "with all those jumping into peas and beans this spring," as one grower put it, were quickly dispelled by PGRO’s Anthony Biddle.
"The UK’s pulse area has declined over the past two or three years," he explained, "which has exacerbated the fact that we don’t grow enough peas and beans."
"There is plenty of market scope, and with prices around the £300/t level for feed beans and £330 for export – to North Africa and Egypt, in particular – there is every reason to increase supply."
He went on to list the agronomic benefits of pulses, an important one being that they require no nitrogen and, in fact, leave 40-50kg/ha N in residual form for the following crop.
In the case of winter wheat, this can mean yield boosted by an additional 1.0t or more per hectare. And, unlike some other sectors, there are no resistance issues currently regarding pea and bean pests.
The increased attention focused on beans and peas in recent months is unlikely to be a temporary phenomenon, he added. "Spring cropping options are likely to assume greater importance in the longer term."
The roadshow audiences also heard details from PGRO and Syngenta speakers of the latest developments in disease, weed and pest control, including the activities of the Optibean project, which is 12 months in to its four-year duration, funded by Defra to the tune of £1.3million.
In conclusion, food for thought turned to thought of food, when attendees were offered an appropriate pie-and-pea meal prior to departure.