“As the pea harvest gets under way, with bean harvest to follow, this is a good time to underline the numerous benefits from growing pulses,” says Roger Vickers, PGRO Chief Executive. “Some have a clear financial value, while others are equally valuable but have less measurable monetary benefits.”
“PGRO’s Top 10 captures the benefits of pulse crops in providing growers an improved and more sustainable rotation with reduced inputs and improved returns across the lifetime of the rotation.”
1. £60/ha of free Nitrogen
A crop of beans or peas will fix approximately 250kgs of N/ha. Of course, significant amounts of this are used by the crop itself, however, the residue from a crop of beans is typically 50–75 kilos N/ha, worth around £60. This N is free, unlike any residual N from other non-leguminous crops which is derived from paid-for N applied to the previous crop.
2. £100/ha boost for following Winter Wheat crop
The boost that pulses give to the following crop – usually a winter wheat - is somewhere in the region of 10%, adding up to 700-1000kgs/ha on average. If we assume an 800 kg uplift in yield of feed wheat, then at current values, this would be circa £100/ha.
3. Blackgrass and weed control
Spring-grown pulses in particular open up an extended window for cultural and stale seedbed techniques in the fight against blackgrass and other pernicious weeds. Pulses also widen the choice of chemistry available for blackgrass control, giving the grower an improved approach to the problem. Severe blackgrass infestation can steal 30-50% of the wheat yield, so the benefit is enormous, let alone saving the £120/ha of chemical costs for blackgrass control
4. Cash flow benefit from reduced production cost
Pulses are rightly seen as a having a lower input cost than cereals, giving a positive benefit to cash flow as a result. Whilst a significant proportion of this cost saving is in the nil requirement for nitrogen application, it is the attention to detail and the application of required inputs at the time they are needed that will make all the difference when it comes to achieving good yields and top quality produce. Typical variable costs for beans at £231/ha and blue peas at £261/ha are significantly lower than, for example, winter oilseed rape at £439/ha) and winter wheat at £498/ha. Yet the resulting gross margins for pulses are amongst the very best of any arable crops in the UK
5. Spread the farm workload
The establishment of pulses is offset compared to most arable crops in the UK, and at the other end of the season, peas generally come to harvest relatively early with beans a little later. The combined effect stretches the crop workload across a wider activity window with decreased intensity.
6. Breaking the disease cycle in oilseed rape and cereals
In a cycle that involves oilseed rape, it is well recognised that disease pressure builds up – but by including a pulse crop in the rotation over a 5 year period, the disease pressure on the oilseed rape is significantly reduced. Pulses also reduce take all pressure in wheat and barley.
7. Soil texture improvement
It is regularly reported that, following a crop of pulses, the soil texture or crumb is dramatically improved, giving a finer more granular texture with improved moisture retentiveness and permeability. This improvement in soil conditions directly after the crop also allows a reduced cost approach to establishing the following crop as the ground is easily worked, requiring minimal cultivation.
8. Slug control
Crops following pulses seem to have a significantly reduced slug problem especially compared to crops following oilseed rape. Yet again, there is a yield benefit and a reduction in costs for the following crop.
9. Soil health improvement
Pulses are known to improve the microbial health of the soil. Just as they break the above-ground cycle of pest and disease of other crops, they improve the microbial balance of nature within the soil. This is another of those almost unquantifiable benefits that result in the yield boosts seen in crops with pulses in the rotation.
10. CAP reform EFA and diversification
As an additional ‘political’ benefit to add to the very positive agronomic benefits of pulses in points 1-9 above, there are the benefits of compliance with the 3-crop rule. Pulses at 5% of the arable area represent a clear opportunity to capitalise with a crop that easily and conveniently entitles the grower to qualify for the 30% greening payment in the BPS. Also pulses qualify as EFAs under the same reform process. So, in a single pulse crop of 5% of the arable area, a grower can comply with both the EFA and diversification requirements.