Faba beans (Vicia faba L.) grown in the UK presently have two major uses: to produce domestic animal feed and to export for human consumption. Farmers are currently deterred from incorporating faba beans into their rotations more widely because of variability in yield between years. Besides, the current average yields achieved (3 t/ha) are significantly lower than the estimated yield potential of over 10 t/ha.
However, faba beans have the potential to play an important role in the UK sustainable farming and food system as they are a good, economical source of plant-derived protein. Moreover, they can help to lower the GHG footprint of agriculture as a result of their ability to fix nitrogen into the soil through biological nitrogen fixation (BNF), thus lowering the need for application of fossil-fuel derived nitrogenous fertiliser to subsequent crops. Colonisation of root nodule structures of faba beans by symbiotic rhizobia bacteria is essential for BNF. With the world population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the EAT-Lancet Commision on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems has proposed that significant dietary shifts will be necessary, including doubling the global consumption of legumes.
The aim of this PhD project is to improve UK faba bean production, both spring and winter varieties, by studying how to optimise nutrient provisions (both fertiliser and BNF derived) in order to enhance the yield, yield stability and yield quality, as well as reduce variability across seasons. This PhD project will utilise a combination of field trials at Harper Adams University (HAU) and on the PGRO trial sites, as well as glasshouse and lab trials at James Hutton Institute (JHI) and HAU in order to study the response of rhizobia to various nutrient and soil factors, as well as the contribution of BNF to total N accumulation in the plant, and residual N available in the soil to following crops.
Ultimately, this PhD project aims to recommend optimised nutrient recommendations to growers and processors of faba beans in order that they are able to achieve improved crop yields and quality.