BASF Agricultural Solutions UK

November 2021 Pulse Check

Andrew Pitts farms with his brother, William, in Northamptonshire. The 2,100 acre holding is primarily devoted to seed crop production but renewable energy production, property letting and contract work also form part of the business.

Beans and peas were re-introduced to the rotation when cabbage stem flea beetle pressure made growing OSR too risky. In hindsight, Andrew says these crops should have been introduced much earlier. Read on to find out more.

Why are you growing pulses?

“We started growing pulses significantly when we took the decision to reduce our OSR acreage. We immediately discovered that we should have been growing pulses years ago; not only are they a profitable crop but they have benefits for the rotation and overall farm management.

“Being combined after the wheat, they help spread the workload. They don’t need as much storage as our wheat crops and they help spread the cashflow – we’re buying and selling the seed in the spring. Our pulses are profitable in their own right, not taking into account what’s happening with fertiliser prices at the moment.

“Then there’s the nutritional value. We’re generally seeing 50-60kg/ha mineral N in soil tests the spring following these break crops.”

How do pulses fit into your rotation?

“We are going back into OSR. We’ll be using various cultural practices to get around cabbage stem flea beetle. It means we won’t be growing beans and peas more than one year in six, but that also means we won’t be growing OSR more than one year in six. It further diversifies our rotation which will now including winter wheat, winter hybrid rye (for seed) and spring barley. We try to have two cereal crops and a break crop. That’s the plan and it seems to work well so far.”

What varieties of beans and peas do you grow?

“We’ve 300-400 acres of pulses on this farm each year, depending upon the rotation. For the last few years we’ve been growing seed Lynx spring beans and seed Sekura marrowfat peas.”

How do you get the most from your pulse crops?

“We do something a little different here. We finished ploughing in 2006 and transitioned from deep inversion to zero till from 2007 to 2016. Since then, we’ve primarily been direct drilling.

“Establishment of spring beans and even more so for peas, is critical to their success. Our peas and beans are direct drilled into the previous cereal stubble or, more recently, into stubble turnips which have been grazed by sheep over the winter.

“The sheep are kicked off the land a minimum of a month, preferably 6 weeks, before we intend to plant the pulse crop. We then direct drill and we’ve had our best yields ever from this approach.

“Like any crop, pulses don’t like compaction. We run a managed traffic system - it is a much more affordable option than controlled traffic. If we have any compaction, we can use our sub-soiler, but our primary approach will always be is direct drilling, unless there is a compelling reason not to.

“Direct drilling also conserves moisture, which is critical for rapid and even germination. A nice even crop is always easier to manage and combine.”

How do you protect your crops from weeds, pests and disease?

“Weed control is really limited in pulses. We use clomazone and Nirvana. We won’t drill our peas or beans unless we’re absolutely certain we can get a pre-em on. Other than basagran, there is virtually nothing to use post-em. To be fair, in the right conditions basagran can do a brilliant job. Strong crop competition is the another tool in the toolkit, and that comes back to rapid and even emergence and establishment.

“For fungicide control we use tebuconazle, azoxystrobin and Signum. There’s nothing special about the application of these products, we follow the label and apply them at the right time.

“Obviously with both crops there are insects to worry about. There are aphids in both peas and beans to consider. We don’t worry ourselves about bruchid beetle. I think it’s more important to keep the pollinators in the crop, than chasing a beetle with resistance.”

Do you have any top tips for harvesting pulses?

“Get them established evenly! It always comes back to soil health. Peas and beans senesce well on their own. Due to the cold weather this year, all our pulse crops were drilled in April and they weren’t combined until 26th September. In 24 hours, we were able to combine the pulses, apply a pre-drilling dose of glyphosate and drill the following crop. That would have terrified me a few of years ago. And there’s no doubt direct drilling is a huge learning curve and requires a higher level of soil management, but there are significant benefits with high yields and with low establishment costs.”

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