BASF Agricultural Solutions UK

June Pulse Check

We last caught up with Kent grower, James Loder-Symonds, back in June 2021. Today's Pulse Check delves a little deeper into his reasons for growing beans, the role of nutrition and his thoughts on the Pulse YEN, as well as providing an update on this season's crops.

Alongside the other directors of Nonington Farms Ltd, James is responsible for over 14,000ha, 160ha of which is owned, the rest being farmed under contract farming agreements.

Increasingly James and the team are farming in line with regenerative practices, with pulses playing a significant role in the rotation.

Can you tell us more about the pulses you’re growing and why?

“This year we’ve 34ha of spring beans and a further 204ha of winter beans. The spring beans are Lynxx and have been entered into the YEN. The winter beans are Vespa and Tundra this year. The hectarage has predominantly been determined by the rotation though we do try and include beans as much as possible because of their widespread benefits.

“This year we have measured that they are adding 20-30kg N to the soil, ready for the first wheats that follow them. They are direct drilled, allowing us to grow cover crops and minimise the movement of soil when sown. Beans also have a good carbon to nitrogen ratio which helps with subsequent crop health.

“For us, pulses are a good balance between risk and reward. They need fewer inputs in comparison with other break crops and cereals, reducing our exposure to volatile markets while offering a reasonable return for a low capital outlay.

“Our bean crops are destined for use as fish feed. They are all grown on contract to Frontier. I believe the days of sticking crops in the ground with the hope that someone will buy them are gone. We’ve got to be more focused and grow crops for specific markets, preferably local.”

How are your spring beans fairing this year?

“The spring beans are looking good.

“We had sown a cover crop last autumn with the aim of growing winter beans in this field, but when we came to drill in November the cover crops hadn’t established that well, so we decided to hold back until the spring.

“We grazed half the field with sheep to see whether it improves yield in comparison with topping. One advantage we’ve already observed with grazing is that it makes direct drilling easier. Our spring beans were sown on 11th March.

“Initially they established well but by mid-May were desperate for rain and had got quite stressed. While the cover crop has undoubtedly helped conserve moisture, it’s been the rain since 15th May that has saved them. We’ve had 62mm in total, though it’s fallen steadily which has really enabled the beans to get away.

“Through the YEN we are regularly tissue testing this crop. The latest results showed levels of magnesium, boron and molybdenum were quite low. So, we’ve applied Bittersalz to give them the magnesium that they need.

“We’ve not used any insecticide. Last year we didn’t either. Instead, we’re relying on beneficials. Looking at the crop last week, there were a few colonies of Black Bean Aphid but there were also plenty of ants, hover flies, ladybirds, and other predators.

“In this 34ha field we’ve put a 12-15m strip between the electricity poles. It forms part of the Stewardship agreement and includes species such as crimson clover, phacelia and raddish. This corridor connects a wood on one side to the hedge at the other, and provides a habitat for beneficials in the middle of the field.

“When we are spraying the field, navigating these telegraph poles would add another half an hour, so from a machinery efficiency perspective, this is another advantage.

What do you like about the Pulse YEN?

“I rather enjoy the fact the pulse YEN isn’t competitive and there’s a more collaborative approach.

“We’ve a WhatsApp group where we exchange information and ideas. You get to see where other growers are at, what challenges they are facing and how there are overcoming them. It is helpful to have ongoing feedback, as opposed to getting all the information at the end of the year.

“Doing the soil and tissue analyses are really good tools for understanding crop health in-season, when we’ve still got the opportunity to support it. I take a holistic approach, which considers soil as well as plant health. If there is a trace element deficiency, we can resolve it and reduce the likelihood of getting disease and insect infestations.

“We’ve not seen much disease this year. There was a little downy mildew in early May, and we applied, Nutriwise Fosfyta – a trace element, which has a preventative effect.”

What are your top tips for harvest?

“For me it starts much earlier. Good establishment means fewer weeds, making combining easier. An even crop means you don’t have variability in terms of the maturity of the seed too.”