Paid-for opportunity for farmers to carry out pulse trials

UK pea and bean growers are being invited to become ‘pulse pioneers’ by contributing to a ground-breaking farmer-led research programme.

pulse crop

The Nitrogen Climate Smart (NCS) project a set of seismic objectives which, if achieved, would transform UK arable rotations while making an enormous contribution towards UK agriculture’s carbon-cutting targets. It aims to facilitate the increase of pulse cropping from 5% to 20% in arable rotations, and intends to displace up to half the imported soya meal used in livestock feed rations.

Led by PGRO, the £5.9m Innovate UK-funded project which was launched in June 2023 hinges on the consortium of 18 partners and the network of farmers who will carry out trials.

British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN) founder Tom Allen-Stevens, is leading the farm trials work, and commented: “We are looking for farmers who are growing, or plan to grow, beans or peas this season and who are growing them in the rotation for the next four years. “We will offer support and payment for them to monitor the crop. In particular we want to compare an area grown to pulses with one that isn’t over a period of four years. This rotational platform approach will enable us to monitor the benefits of pulse crops through the rotation.”

At least 40 farmers will be recruited overall, and the first contracts to conduct the work were signed in February.

Committing to the project

Award-winning mixed arable and poultry farmer, Will Oliver of Osbaston House Farm, Leicestershire, was one of the first growers to sign up to the programme.
Will’s enterprise includes 200,000-bird broiler coupled with 850ha of arable land, cropping winter wheat, maize and winter beans. Part of the land is in permanent pasture, under the Countryside Stewardship scheme, and sheep are brought in graze some parts of the farm. 
“Pulses are really important to us because we’re not growing oilseed rape anymore,” Will says. “They’re our break crop with an early entry – in most years – and good for the ground as well.
“They provide a nitrogen and organic matter boost. Just having to use less bagged fertiliser in general is a positive.”

Osbaston House Farm employee

Improving understanding

Will is getting involved in order to improve the understanding of the potential beans have in UK agriculture. “I just think beans have never really had as much research into them as they deserve,” he said. “Maybe if we can fine tune how we grow them a bit, tweak varieties perhaps, we might be able to get a bit more out of them.” His winter beans usually return a yield of 3–4t/ha, with a good averaged result of 4.2t/ha in 2023. But for Will, it’s not all about yield.

“People tend to call profit what you actually get in your bank at the end,” he said. “But then you can say, right, our soils are in good condition, and we’re saving a pass on our wheat establishment. 
“So sometimes you’ve just got to look away from the money side of things and see what else it brings to the rotation, especially in this current climate.”

The exact details of what he wants to trial for the NCS Project are yet to be set in stone. 
He said: “I’m still looking at options but I’d like to include a trial I’m planning of QLF boost (a liquid carbon-based fertiliser). I will probably do tramline trials spreading a molasses product. We’ve had quite good results with maize and wheat, so it’d be interesting to see where beans come in on that. 
“I’m just interested in how we can grow a crop better and be a bit more efficient, and the monitoring I’ll be doing as a pulse pioneer will help understanding.”
Pea and bean crops put forward by pulse pioneers will be entered into the ADAS Pulse YEN which gives growers detailed feedback on how the crop has performed through the season, as well as an analysis of yield.

To become involved in the project visit 

To listen to Will and Tom talk about the NCS Project in more detail, download the latest episode of the PGRO’s Inside The Pod podcast.

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