Benefits of pulses in the rotation

Attention to detail is  key when it comes to successful pulse growing according to respondents to BASF’s state of the nation survey on pulses. Optimising the agronomy of these break crops brings benefits across the rotation, with  a yield boost to the following crop the most recognised gain.

Toby Hogsbjerg is growing 28 ha of large blue combining peas near Kings Lynn in Norfolk. He said, “Often there seems to be a lack of care and attention with some of these pulse crops, they don’t get the chance to be as productive as they could be as they are often a last minute break crop.

For us, peas are a good replacement for oilseed rape (OSR)  because they ease the workload. They also give a good entry for winter wheat, free nitrogen, an improvement in soil health, there’s a readily available market and a good price if you get the quality and they are well suited to my soil type. Peas are definitely a good crop to grow but they do need the attention to detail. ”

According to Mr Hogsbjerg, good establishment is crucial because that is the backbone of the whole pea crop. He said, “You have to have a really good seedbed, get the crop in, up and away as evenly as possible. Our peas went into land which had been ploughed and pressed for winter barley that didn’t get planted. In the spring we sprayed it off, fertilised it, took the wheelings out, cultivated and drilled the peas at the end of March.

The peas probably went in a week earlier than they should have done but it worked out well because our land is very, very light, so they were in before the dry weather and just kept on going.”

Mr Hogsbjerg, in common with over 80% of respondents to BASF’s survey applied a pre-em herbicide to his crop. He said, “You have got to make sure you get the best out of your pre-em. I applied Nirvana® and Centium and they have done a really good job this year.”

Currently there is no disease evident and the peas are beginning to put out pods. Last week Mr Hogsbjerg applied trace elements, due to deficiency and recommendation, and fungicide. He said, “I applied the fungicide Signum® as it’s the only product I know that does the job on peas, it worked well for me last year.”

Iain Ford, Business Development Manager BASF said, “Our survey found that 40% of combining pea and field bean growers use Signum® which offers excellent disease control and  is an ideal replacement for chlorothalonil (CTL) in pulses.

At the moment the disease level is low in crops, it has been relatively dry and that has kept the lid on disease but that could easily change. Applying fungicides is not always about reacting to what is there today, we are protecting the crop for what’s to come in the next few weeks.” Signum® contains boscalid (SDHI) and pyraclostrobin (strobilurin), both of which have activity against the main diseases in both peas and beans.

Last year BASF carried out trials across a number of sites, including work with PGRO, on peas and beans and found the same level of disease control from each of the products:  a CTL mixture, an azoxystrobin and tebuconazole mixture and Signum®. However, Signum® treated plots yielded better.

Mr Ford said, “Both the boscalid and the pyraclostrobin have physiological effects on the crop which help to increase green leaf area retention and promote increased yield. Although on paper other fungicides may look cheaper per hectare, the yield benefit achieved by using Signum® gives a better margin over the fungicide input cost.”

The BASF survey highlighted the increase in spring beans in the ground this year. In mid Suffolk, weather conditions in the autumn stopped  Jeremy Squirrell  planting as many winter beans as usual and so he  increased his spring bean area to 47 ha. He said, “We grow beans regularly, purely for a rotational benefit, instead of just growing oilseed rape, which is an incredibly risky crop to grow nowadays.

We are firm believers of a good rotation and the benefits that brings to the following crop. We always follow beans with a first wheat, unless weather conditions stop us getting it in. All break crops bring a yield advantage over just growing continuous cereals, some years it might be a small percentage, other years it could be over 2t/ha difference.”

Work by PGRO has shown an average yield increase of 0.7 – 1.0 t/ha to winter wheat following beans and 50-75 kg/ha residual nitrogen following a crop of pulses.

Mr Ford said, “ We want to encourage growers to look at the profitability of the whole rotation rather than the profitability of one crop in one season.  If we are getting a yield boost in the following crop, the value of that could in theory be credited to the margin achieved by the previous pulse crop so growers have to look at the profitability over those two years.”

BASF are sponsoring Mr Hogsbjerg and Mr Squirrell’s entry to the pea and bean YEN. Mr Hogsbjerg said, “I decided to take part in the YEN in order to provide  more data to the project. It’s about trying to increase productivity of what could be a more productive crop if grown to the level that British growers are capable of.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.