Spring-sown winter beans need careful planning after major autumn disruptions

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The Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO) is re-issuing advice for planting winter beans this spring after bad weather halted drilling and caused major disruption across farms in autumn last year.

October and November saw high levels of rainfall overflow rivers and flood defences, leaving thousands of acres of farmland under water, sometimes washing away newly-sown crops.

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This disruption left frustrated growers with stockpiles of winter bean seed in their sheds. While it can still be sown, growers will need to plan for changes to the crop’s maturity date and expected yield.

Research from field tests carried out in 2013 show rates should be increased to counter yield impact, and that maturity will take up to 12 days longer in East England.

Principal technical officer Stephen Belcher had first hand experiences with the differences that growers looking to sow in 2024 can expect, having drilled winter beans in spring, with four populations planted at three sites on different sowing dates.

Mr Belcher said: “The autumn of 2023 has been extremely challenging for arable farmers and opportunities for fieldwork have been limited, resulting in many crops – including beans – being left unplanted.

“The situation has prompted many calls to the PGRO regarding the viability of using winter bean seed in the spring, and it is absolutely a viable option for growers, but they should expect a lower yield and later maturity than if autumn sown.

The trials showed that winter beans at 18 plants/m2 could be grown when planted in the spring, but would suffer an average 34% yield reduction against those sown in the autumn. They also matured between 7 and 12 days later than autumn-sown seed.

The yield penalty could be reduced to 18% by doubling the seed rate to 36-40 plants/m2.

“Based on the work carried out in this area, our guidance is to treat the crop very much like a spring bean and to increase the plant population to around 36-40 plants/m2”, Mr Belcher concluded.

More information on drilling winter beans in the spring can be found on their website here.

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