Becky Ward - PGROThe UK spring bean area could hit 120,000 hectares as farmers seek to catch up on missed planting from the autumn, predicted Anthony Biddle of the PGRO.
He told growers at a nationwide series of Pulse Agronomy Roadshows, organised by the PGRO and Syngenta, that the majority of farms forced to increase their area of spring cropping will be looking at the potential for beans.
"The good news is that there are now good pulse varieties that will suit almost every situation. And the market potential for beans is especially strong; there is huge demand across Egypt and North Africa for UK grown beans," he said.
Dr Biddle reported that where spring beans had seen a step change in yields with the introduction of Fuego, some of the exciting new varieties coming through have seen another major leap forward.
Vertigo, for example, has yielded 16% above the control varieties in the Recommended List programme. However, he acknowledged that the variety was not as strong against Downy Mildew with a rating of 4.
"We recognise that Downy Mildew could be a serious issue for growers with the revocation of Folio Gold, especially if it is a hot, dry season. However, we are actively seeking a solution with another option through the Extension of Authorised Use; and if the situation did arise that Downy Mildew was hitting crops severely we would push for an emergency approval," he added.
Dr Biddle also believed that peas have good potential for the spring options, with currently only 25,000 hectares typically grown in the UK, which provides a big market that needs to be filled.
Around 60% of the area in recent years has been Marrowfat varieties, with some excellent new options available, he added. "The key is the need to deliver good quality and above all colour that is critical for the pre-pack premium. Harvest timing is crucial, so when the peas are ready to be cut it is important to take them in as a priority."
Initial findings from the cross-industry funded Optibean project indicate that higher plant populations than previously recommended may produce higher overall yields. Winter bean sowings in 2011 and spring beans the following year have both shown increased yields at the highest seed rates trialled – right up to 60ppm2 for the spring crops, reported Anthony Biddle.
"It was noticeable that the high plant population from early drilling was especially susceptible to Chocolate Spot, with all the high plant populations adversely affected with a subsequent reduction of yield." In the spring sown crops, there was no real difference in yield from any drilling date between February and early April, but the yield was higher from greater plant density.
These findings are reflected in the PGRO recommendations for spring sowing of winter beans.
Where the variety Wizard had been included in spring trials in the past, it has reliably produced a viable crop, although the advice is to progressively increase seed rates as plants will not have the chance to branch out as much as the autumn sown crop. Dr Biddle said that on heavy land the late sown winter beans could equal the yield of a spring bean variety, although on light land it may only achieve 80% of the output.
"Given the wet soils this season it will be more important to get soil conditions right before planting, rather than worrying too much about the date. Even if that is left through into April, you will at least still get a crop."
Pulse crops have an important role in battling the ever-increasing levels of Blackgrass on affected farms, according to PGRO herbicide-specialist, Jim Scrimshaw.
He warned a combination of horrendous populations in 2012 and seed testing showing high dormancy in Blackgrass seed is likely to result in protracted, drawn out emergence this season and making weeds more difficult to control. The problem is being exacerbated by increasing herbicide resistance and no alternative modes of action for control.
"Cultural controls are going to become ever more important in growers’ programmes to restrict Blackgrass populations," he advised.
"The techniques are more effective on low to moderate weed populations, so the sooner growers adopt some of the ideas, the greater the chance of success."
Mr Scrimshaw highlighted the potential for an increase in spring cropping to mitigate the year-on-year decline in winter wheat yields and productivity that occurs as resistance to chemical control rises.
He pointed out that with winter beans there are some useful options to tackle Blackgrass in the autumn.
The important first stage is to eliminate any weed flush pre-sowing, followed by herbicide sequences including Defy in conjunction with pendimethalin and propyzamide or carbetamide.
With applications of propyzamide, Mr Scrimshaw reiterated the advice to wait until soil temperatures have fallen below 10°C before application to achieve the most effective control of the Blackgrass germinating in the upper 5cm.
Furthermore, there is evidence that spring graminicides might be more effective in controlling Blackgrass which have been sensitised by the propyzamide treatment, he added.
With spring sown peas and beans, the key opportunity to really hit Blackgrass populations is the chance for at least two or three weed flushes to be stimulated and killed off, followed by herbicide treatments in spring beans that can further target later emerging weeds.
"The opportunity to successfully get on top of Blackgrass must have a financial worth to the farm as a whole," he concluded.
More pea seed is being identified carrying ascochyta disease, warned PGRO plant pathologist, Kerry Maguire.
Whilst the issue had previously been associated more with bean seed, after last year’s incredibly wet conditions the pathogen levels have more recently been seen rising in peas. She advocates that growers should have seed stocks tested, and treated accordingly if potential problems are identified.
"With the lack of foliar treatments for Downy Mildew seed treatment with Wakil XL could prove more important than ever to minimise early infection stop the initial foci in the crop – which could quickly spread to other plants in cool humid conditions," she advised.
"In these conditions the seed treatment really comes into its own."
With the very high incidence of Chocolate Spot in bean crops last season Dr Maguire highlighted results of PGRO disease control trials that showed strong yield responses to fungicide applications at appropriate times.
She reported that, with a single spray, the mid-season timing was most effective, but if application was delayed until late the damage had already been done and yield severely depressed.
When two sprays were used the early and mid-season combination maintained the lowest level of disease and gave the highest yield, with a 1.5t/ha increase over untreated.
A three spray programme did produce even higher yield, but only marginally better than two well-timed applications, she added.
Syngenta Field Technical Manager, Iain Hamilton, advised that a two spray programme of Alto Elite in mixture with by Amistar, had proven to give extremely effective protection against a broad spectrum of diseases for bean and pea crops.
"Alto Elite will protect against Botrytis (Chocolate Spot) before it gets into the crop. Early intervention to stop the pathogen establishing is essential, since it cannot be controlled once it gets into its ‘aggressive phase," he warned.
If Chocolate Spot remains a risk, Mr Hamilton advocated also including Alto Elite in with a follow up Amistar application - which also boosts the protection from late Ascochyta and both elements enhancing the prevention of rust. "Mixtures are always better for a broader-spectrum of diseases and to improve the resistance management of fungicide choice," he added.
Last summer’s wet conditions saw a marked fall in aphid numbers in pulse crops, according to Becky Ward of the PGRO. But she warned that growers should not become complacent, since virus levels had been rising over previous seasons. She highlighted that treatment timing was vital in preventing yield loss.
"It is essential to be looking at crop very closely in the lead up to flowering. Early infestations of pea aphid can be difficult to spot at this stage, but it is the timing when they will be transmitting virus and consequently result in yield loss."
With the aphid numbers so low last year, she believed that some growers may have assumed the Bruchid Beetle pressure would also be low. However whilst the number of affected samples does appear to have been lower than 2011 - especially in the north and Lincolnshire - over 65% of samples would not reach human consumption grade.
"For treatment timing we are increasingly confident that application when there has been two days of temperatures reaching above 20C once the crop is at first pod will give the best control of adult beetles."
"This should be followed with a repeat treatment after seven to 10 days. In most instances we are looking at a two or possibly three spray programme, but the results show that these can be extremely effective," she advised.
Ms Ward highlighted that the BruchidCast forecasting system, developed in conjunction with Syngenta to provide growers with advance warning of conditions when Bruchid Beetle would be most active, was proving highly valuable.
Developments to look at monitoring Beetle numbers through trapping and building in crop growth stage data could further enhance the information and advice.
She added that since the Bruchid Beetles remain in the crop all the time, insecticide applications can be targeted first thing in the morning or late evening, when bee activity in the flowering crop is at a minimum.
Including spring beans once in a four year with oilseed rape and two first wheat crops could deliver an overall return within 1% of an alternating wheat oilseed rape rotation, which many growers falsely believe is the most profitable route, said Ron Stobart, Head of Crop Research Communication at NIAB TAG.
He reported that where oilseed rape was grown closely in the rotation, typically as alternating wheat/rape, trials have shown the yield penalty for the rape was around 12%, compared to virgin ground or extended rotations.
Where the interval between rape crops was extended to four years, by growing beans as an alternative break, he believed higher yields could be maintained that would boost the overall margin.
Using results from the STAR research initiative, looking at the sustainability of crop rotations, they have seen wheat yields following spring beans averaging 8.51 t/ha, compared to 7.99 t/ha after oilseed rape and 5.86 t/ha when grown as continuous wheat.
When all the variable cost elements had been built in, the alternating wheat and OSR rotation would have a four-year total margin of £3275/ha, compared to £3254 by including spring beans in the rotation.
"When you add in the other benefits for growing beans in the rotation, growers should not be concerned about a financial penalty," advised Stobart.
"Spring beans and the use of spring breaks is going to be even more important as a management tool across the farm in the future."
Spring beans have firmly established a place in the cropping for Leicestershire farmer, Mark Wells.
Despite two very contrasting years agronomically in 2011 and 2012, in both seasons the crops' margin has exceeded £1100/ha, he reported.
Combined with other attributes the beans bring to the farm’s overall operation, they are now a mainstay in the rotation for Burbage Farm, near Hinckley.
"We only want to grow oilseed rape at a maximum of one year in three, so another break-crop was essential," he said.
"We have found that the beans make an excellent entry for wheat, and they spread the workload for the season.
"Beans are generally far easier to harvest than peas, especially in a wet year; you can be confident that, at some stage, you are always going to get the beans harvested."
Wells added that the crop also helps to clean up grass weeds on the farm, as well as enabling overwintered stubble that fits with his HLS scheme requirements: "we can plough the stubbles in February and still get the spring beans in."
He also recalled that whilst Downy Mildew was a significant threat in the hot, dry season of 2011 - when the crop experienced just 27mm of rain from sowing to harvest – the opposite conditions of exceptional rainfall from May to September in 2012 meant that Chocolate Spot was a continuous risk.
"It did mean that we had to go in more often with a fungicide application, but we did manage to get on top of it and keep the plants clean. The wet weather did mean that the pre-emergence herbicide worked very effectively, so no follow-up was required."
The other advantage was that aphids that had been so troublesome in the hot, dry 2011 summer, were almost non-existent in 2012. However he commented that Bruchid Beetle continued to be a threat in both seasons, although they had managed to maintain good control and harvest clean seed free of pest damage.
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