March Pulse Check 2022
3 Mar 2022
Our first Pulse Check of 2022 features Guy Wakeham who grows spring beans, Lynx.
Although Guy went to ag college, he is an accountant by trade and spent most of his working life in manufacturing. He didn’t do ‘practical agriculture’ until he became involved in the family farm 10 years ago. Initially his focus was the administration and financial aspects of the business and only helped out with the odd physical task.
Today, however, he is solely responsible for the running of the Cambridgeshire farm.
Guy describes himself as a novice but admits, his background has an advantage; it gives him an unusual perspective and makes him question everything the business does.
Tell us about your farm
“We’ve a 600-acre conventional mixed-cropping farm growing wheat, sugar beet, barley, beans and in the past, peas and linseed. We do let out a little land on a cropping license for onions and potatoes, though admittedly it’s only a small part of what we do.
“We work collaboratively with a near-by farmer and have done for the last 30 years. It’s a blend of a partnership / contract farming type arrangement and has worked very well. Over the years we’ve acquired land and made shared machinery investments. However, with changes in government support and benchmarking our activities, I am now looking to do more work myself.”
How and why did you start growing beans?
“Historically we’d successfully grown peas and found them to be a useful break crop. But the rotation had got a bit tight, and yields were tailing off, despite some very good-looking crops. After three years of banging my head against the ‘pea-wall’ I wanted to find something different while ensuring we’d a break crop - I certainly wasn’t into taking the risk with OSR.
“Beans seemed to be a good fit. Our partner had grown them so we’d an experienced grower on our side as well as a local market in the form of a seed contract.
“After a bit of a shaky start, we’ve got on well and beans are an important part of the rotation.”
Establishing spring beans
“Soil structure is paramount when growing beans. We’d had trouble lifting some sugar beet two years previously and had some soil structure issues. Wheat that followed did ok but the beans that came after did not. It showed me soil structural issues can last many seasons. It taught us a valuable lesson that while beans are a big seed, and appear to throw out good roots, they do not cope with poor soil structure.
“Some people think you can drill beans and forget about them. That’s certainly not the case for us. Where we’ve good soil structure, we have good yields. Where we’ve poor structure, emergence was patchy, we get poor weed control – further compounded by the underlying soils structure - and the yields have been appalling.
“I’m still trialling the best approach to preparing seedbeds with around 50% of our bean acreage ploughed, and 50% cultivated with a McConnel Discaerator. We get the seedbeds ready in the autumn, making sure seedbeds are level and soil structure is good.
“I’m trying to move away from ploughing. I’m not sure it is necessary and in the longer-term I suspect we’ll be encouraged not to plough. If I can get the beans established with a tine cultivator, I will do.”
“Weed control has been Nirvana and will be going forward. Admittedly there’s not a lot of choice and it’s important to get on top of weeds from the beginning as there isn’t a lot of opportunity to fire fight once the beans have emerged. Basagran can only be used in certain circumstances due to its active, bentazone.
“Diseases haven’t been too troublesome since we first started growing beans two years ago. We’re treating the crops with a fairly standard programme of two applications of Signum, with tebuconazole for rust control.
“We do have bean weevil, easily seen by leaf notching. I have sprayed for it with a pyrethroid-based product, though I’m not convinced how effective it is. Growing my bean crops for seed, I am less concerned with Bruchid damage and control can be extremely variable. We try to maintain a strong, healthy crop stand and a dynamic farm with plenty of beneficial insects which will do just as much, if not more, than insecticide applications. If I can avoid insecticide sprays I will.”
Importance of YEN
“It’s like having a school teacher sat on your shoulder. YEN makes me think about what I am doing. I’m not obsessing with the highest yield, as I use it as a learning opportunity and for the support it offers. It focuses my mind on the key decisions and enables me to learn from others who have more experience with the crop.
“It’s too easy to get distracted on-farm with other ‘more important’ tasks, so YEN keeps me on track.”