Company News

January 20, 2020

Specialist Spring Beans Add Agronomic and Marketing Value in Yorkshire

Spring feed beans on a specialist contract for the Waitrose Farming Partnership are adding to the agronomic and marketing flexibility that are Velcourt manager, Rob Yardley’s keys to minimising risk across Hartley Farming’s 1020ha of arable cropping at Birkin near Knottingley in North Yorkshire.

Beans as well as both winter and spring barley, winter OSR, vining peas and potatoes have been standard in the broad wheat-based rotation he has run on the Aire flood plain for the past three years. To broaden it further while better managing the land – much of which is heavy, wet and cold – he has been introducing cover crops, stubble turnips for sheep grazing and, most recently, winter linseed.

A pig muck for wheat straw swap makes a valuable contribution to soil health, as do long-term grass leys for haylage on some of the most difficult ground.

“We’ve grown spring beans for the human consumption market for a while now,” explained Rob. “They suit us well, delivering a decent margin and providing a spring break that’s really valuable for our grassweed control, although bruchid beetle can be a headache with such a tight control window.

“Until last season we avoided feed beans because we didn’t want to be at the mercy of the feed market. But we didn’t realise you could grow them for an assured market and earn a premium. So, when our Agrii seed specialist, Rebecca Gibson told us about the Tiffany contract for Waitrose we decided to give it a go. And we’re very glad we did.

“We drilled around 40ha – about a quarter of our crop – to the variety in our normal spring bean slot (between two first wheats) in early March. After a bit of a slow start they took off strongly to deliver our highest average yield of the season at around 4.5t/ha in the second week of September. We weren’t expecting more than 4t/ha. So, we’re well-pleased.

“The contract’s specification and pricing suit us nicely too,” he added. “All we have to deliver is a 15% moisture content and maximum 2% admix.

“With sufficient storage, we’re aiming for movement between January and May. When we actually sell, though, will depend on the wheat price as the contract guarantees us a market at £50 over feed wheat. This combination of assurance and flexibility really helps us manage our marketing risk.”

While most of Hartley Farming’s beans continue to be sown into ploughed land, last year for the first time the Tiffany went in behind a cover crop of vetch, black oats and tillage radish. This was deliberately sown in mid-September to avoid an unmanageably large biomass.

Rob Yardley sees cover crops as another valuable tool for minimising risk. He’s using them to protect the soil over winter, encourage steady water infiltration, and add to the organic matter, nutrient cycling and biodiversity. But what he wants to avoid are huge canopies that shelter too much black-grass from glyphosate treatment and leave too much trash to get in the way of drilling.

Both the last season’s cover and the beans were drilled with a Vaderstad Rapid – the cover into baled wheat stubble with sub-soiler incorporated TSP and pig muck, and the beans directly into the cover residue, following early destruction with glyphosate.

This season the phosphate and manure have been incorporated and cover crops sown in a single pass with a Sumo Quatro, both to manage workloads at one of the busiest times of the year and to give a better-ridged and less-consolidated surface.

“It’s still early days for us with cover cropping,” commented Rob. “In combination with TSP, pig muck and subsoiling, it definitely helped us make the most of last season’s Tiffany, allowing us to sow earlier than our other bean crops. But we want to avoid the over-consolidation from two passes with a drill in just six months that I think led the spring crop to struggle a bit at establishment.”

Like last year, this season’s Tiffany will be going in when soil conditions are right and at around 60 seeds/m2 (depending on sowing time). Again, it will receive a robust pre-em to tackle both grass and broadleaved weeds and MOP soon after drilling to provide fresh available potash on ground where nutrient availability can be restricted.

While the crop had three fungicide sprays in the high risk 2019 season, if conditions allow Rob aims to employ just two this time round to minimise production costs, together with a timely bruchid spray.

He will continue to avoid post-em herbicides which can easily compromise the crop by de-waxing the leaves. At the same time, he will keep up a routine micro-nutrient programme based firmly on tissue testing.

“In the coming season we’re planning to weight our micro-nutrition more towards earlier application to ensure we support the crop as well as we can in its foundation phase,” said Rob Yardley. “We were very happy with the way things turned out last year. But we can always improve, and need to be doing everything we can with all our cropping to ensure the most consistent production with an increasingly uncertain climate and marketplace.

“The Agrii contract for Waitrose has been important in allowing us to increase our bean growing without adding extra risk. Including the potato and vining pea land, around a quarter of our cropping is now spring-sown. I think this is about right here. But wherever we need to – mainly from a black-grass control point of view – we will increase our spring barley growing, in particular.

“As well as balancing our winter and spring cropping, we try to maintain the best balance of growing for defined markets with commodity cropping. We contract land out for potatoes and vining peas; grow winter barley for malting along with some milling wheats; and the winter linseed we’ve added this year – like the Tiffany beans – is all on an end-market contract.

“To take advantage of the particularly good market prospects for oilseed rape, we’ve actually increased our OSR growing this year from 110ha to 150ha,” he noted. “The extra acreage has gone into premium HOLL rape for the first time, again on contract.

“It’s all about keeping our options open and planning to be flexible in both our agronomy and marketing. Premium-earning contracts for assured markets have become an increasingly important element in both respects for us.”

Tiffany Contract Delivers Carbon-Saving for Waitrose

The contract for low vicine, low co-vicine (LVC) Tiffany beans developed by Agrii for Waitrose pig and poultry producers is part of the supermarket’s determined programme to reduce its food miles and carbon footprint.

It enables UK pork, poultry and eggs to be produced with less imported soya by taking advantage of increased inclusions of traceable home-grown bean protein without the anti-nutritional factors that would otherwise prevent it.

“The opportunity offered by LVC beans was originally identified through the four year Optibean project,” explained Agrii seed manager, Rebecca Gibson. “Our growing and feeding trials with Tiffany – which joined the PGRO Recommended List in 2019 – gave Waitrose the confidence to recommend the bean’s inclusion in its Farming Partnership members rations. This, in turn, enabled us to develop and introduce initial area-based contracts

“We are looking to expand these as confidence in the variety’s feeding value grows among Partnership members. Victus – which joined the RL as an LVC variety alongside Tiffany – has a slightly higher yield rating but cannot be contracted as it has yet to be trialled for Waitrose. It also has a lower protein content.

“Our Tiffany contracts have the advantage of a very simple, easy-to-achieve specification – 15% moisture and 2% maximum admix,” she continued. “They offer a minimum of £5/t over the ex-farm feed bean price or £50/t over feed wheat at the time of movement; whichever delivers the best return.

“The variety has proved to be very vigorous in our growing trials and first season’s experience on-farm. It has reasonable resistance to downy mildew, stands well and isn’t late to mature. We have found it to be well-suited to growing on heavy, cold land. Most importantly, though, it offers a really attractive alternative to free-market bean-growing.”