Processors and Growers Research Organisation

Online Pulse Agronomy Guide

The value and choice of pulse crops for UK growers

Pulses are competitive and profitable against other arable crops on the farm – and have a very positive effect on the whole farm rotation, providing substantial benefits to subsequent crops - particularly cereals or oilseeds.

For example, for a first wheat following beans, the value in additional wheat yield is likely to be around £100/ha to add to a saving in applied nitrogen of circa 50kg/ha. Spring cropping significantly opens the window to attack problem weed species such as black-grass and pests such as slugs with both cultivation and alternative chemistry techniques. Pulse crops also provide disease breaks for cereals and oilseeds and have the advantage of spreading the workload on farm.

There are many growers in the UK who routinely achieve significantly higher pulse crop yields than average – it is not unusual for growers to produce double the average yield of pulses in the UK from very much the same level of inputs. As part of the PGRO role to encourage progress in pulse growing, the Bean Yield Challenge was launched and full details are available on the PGRO web site.

There are three main pulse crops grown in the UK: spring-sown combining peas, winter-sown field beans and spring-sown field beans. Other pulse crops such as soya, navy beans and lupins are also be grown on limited areas at present.

Spring combining peas are very versatile with most current varieties being semi-leafless with high yields and improved standing ability. While heavy rainfall and wind in June and July can result in tall crops that are prone to lodging, growing peas on lighter soils reduces lodging risk. The tolerance of peas to drought stress allows good yields in low rainfall areas. Spring peas mature early enough to allow production as far north as central Scotland.

Winter field beans are the classic pulse crop for heavier land that is difficult to work in the spring. Though the preferred method of establishment is by drilling, ploughing-in remains an option. Early crop development reduces their susceptibility to early summer drought.

Spring field bean yields can fluctuate with the success of the crop linked to early summer rainfall. In dry years, yields can be disappointing, but in wet years much
better results can be expected. Vulnerability to drought can be reduced by growing on more moisture-retentive soils and by sowing early. Spring beans are now being successfully produced in arable areas of Northumberland and southern Scotland with good yields. In these higher rainfall areas, the late maturity of spring beans needs to be considered and early maturing types are now available. Premium markets exist for pale hilum beans for export to the Middle East for human consumption and for small, round-seeded samples for pigeon feed.

Other protein-rich dried pulse crops can also present opportunities for growers. Soya, Navy Beans and Lupins are covered in this guide.

For example, lupins have a high protein content, ranging from 30 to 45%, depending upon species, variety and growing conditions. They provide a useful level of oil, offering possibilities in animal feeding rations.