As the pea harvest gets under way, with bean harvestto follow, this is a good time to underline the numerous benefits from growingpulses, says Roger Vickers, PGRO Chief Executive. Some have a clear financialvalue, while others are equally valuable but have less measurable monetarybenefits.
PGROs Top 10 captures the benefits of pulse cropsin providing growers an improved and more sustainable rotation with reducedinputs and improved returns across the lifetime of the rotation.
1. 60/ha of freeNitrogen
A crop of beans or peas will fix approximately250kgs of N/ha. Of course, significant amounts of this are used by the cropitself, however, the residue from a crop of beans is typically 5075 kilosN/ha, worth around 60. This N is free, unlike any residual N from othernon-leguminous crops which is derived from paid-for N applied to the previouscrop.
2. 100/ha boost forfollowing Winter Wheat crop
The boost that pulses give to the followingcrop usually a winter wheat – is somewhere in the region of 10%, adding up to700-1000kgs/ha on average. If we assume an 800 kg uplift in yield of feedwheat, then at current values, this would be circa 100/ha.
3. Black-grass and weedcontrol
Spring-grown pulses in particular open up anextended window for cultural and stale seedbed techniques in the fight againstblackgrass and other pernicious weeds. Pulses also widen the choice ofchemistry available for blackgrass control, giving the grower an improvedapproach to the problem. Severe blackgrass infestation can steal 30-50% of thewheat yield, so the benefit is enormous, let alone saving the 120/ha ofchemical costs for blackgrass control
4. Cash flow benefit fromreduced production cost
Pulses are rightly seen as a having a lower inputcost than cereals, giving a positive benefit to cash flow as a result. Whilst asignificant proportion of this cost saving is in the nil requirement fornitrogen application, it is the attention to detail and the application ofrequired inputs at the time they are needed that will make all the differencewhen it comes to achieving good yields and top quality produce. Typicalvariable costs for beans at 231/ha and blue peas at 261/ha are significantlylower than, for example, winter oilseed rape at 439/ha) and winter wheat at498/ha. Yet the resulting gross margins for pulses are amongst the very bestof any arable crops in the UK
5. Spread the farmworkload
The establishment of pulses is offset compared tomost arable crops in the UK, and at the other end of the season, peas generallycome to harvest relatively early with beans a little later. The combined effectstretches the crop workload across a wider activity window with decreasedintensity.
6. Breaking the diseasecycle in oilseed rape and cereals
In a cycle that involves oilseed rape, it is wellrecognised that disease pressure builds up but by including a pulse crop inthe rotation over a 5 year period, the disease pressure on the oilseed rape issignificantly reduced. Pulses also reduce take all pressure in wheat andbarley.
7. Soiltexture improvement
It is regularly reported that, following a crop ofpulses, the soil texture or crumb is dramatically improved, giving a finer moregranular texture with improved moisture retentiveness and permeability. This improvement in soil conditions directlyafter the crop also allows a reduced cost approach to establishing thefollowing crop as the ground is easily worked, requiring minimal cultivation.
8. Slug control
Crops following pulses seem to have a significantlyreduced slug problem especially compared to crops following oilseed rape. Yetagain, there is a yield benefit and a reduction in costs for the followingcrop.
9. Soil healthimprovement
Pulses are known to improve the microbial health ofthe soil. Just as they break the above-ground cycle of pest and disease ofother crops, they improve the microbial balance of nature within thesoil. This is another of those almost unquantifiable benefits that resultin the yield boosts seen in crops with pulses in the rotation.
10. CAP reform EFA anddiversification
As anadditional political benefit to add to the very positiveagronomic benefits of pulses in points 1-9 above, there are the benefitsof compliance with the 3-crop rule. Pulses at 5% ofthe arable area represent a clear opportunity to capitalise with a crop thateasily and conveniently entitles the grower to qualify for the 30% greeningpayment 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 withboth the EFA and diversification requirements.