first pulse pioneers recruited

UK pea and bean growers are being invited to become ‘pulse pioneers’ and be paid to carry out on-farm trials which contribute to a ground-breaking research programme.

The Nitrogen Climate Smart (NCS) Project aims to facilitate the increase of pulse cropping from 5% to 20% in arable rotations, and displace up to half the imported soya meal used in livestock feed rations.

At least 40 farmers will be recruited and the first contracts to conduct the work have been signed this week.

Tom Allen-Stevens, founder of the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN), is leading the farm trials work.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

One of the first farmers to commit to becoming a pulse pioneer is Will Oliver of Osbaston House farm, Leicestershire (pictured).

Will is an award-winning mixed arable and poultry farmer with a 200,000-bird broiler coupled with 850ha of arable land which is put to winter wheat, maize, winter beans and permanent pasture countryside stewardship. Sheep also 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.”

Will first heard about the NCS Project in late 2023 and decided he was interested in being part of some work 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 between three and four tonnes per hectare with an average 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.

The NCS Project has 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.

Reducing emissions by 1.5Mt CO₂e per annum (or 54% of the maximum potential for UK agriculture) is the primary goal which could be achieved by replacing half the imported soya used in livestock feeding rations with home-grown pulses. The project aims to prove this can be achieved by working closely with over 200 farmers.

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

To become involved in the project go to www.ncsproject.co.uk and 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.

ENDS

Notes to editors

  • Nitrogen Efficient Plants for Climate Smart Arable Cropping Systems (NCS) is a four-year £5.9M research programme involving 200 UK farms and 17 partners.
  • The project aims to bring about a reduction of 1.5Mt CO₂e per annum or 54% of the maximum potential for UK agriculture through increasing pulse and legume cropping in arable rotations to 20% across the UK and replacing 50% of imported soya meal used in livestock feed rations with home-grown pulses and legumes.
  • The project is steered by science and proven by real farm enterprises, with significant benefits for both crop and livestock productivity, including cost savings of over £1bn/yr.
  • PGRO (Processors and Growers Research Organisation) leads the consortium that includes AB Agri, ADAS, Agrii, BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network), Cranfield University, Farm Carbon Toolkit, Firstmilk, GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), The James Hutton Institute, Kelvin Cave, LC Beef Nutrition, LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), McArthur Agriculture, PBL Technology, SRUC and Wessex Water.
  • The NCS Project is funded by the Farming Futures R&D Fund: Climate smart farming, part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme. Defra are working in partnership with Innovate UK who are delivering the programme. Project number: 10043778
  • Innovate UK is the UK’s national innovation agency. It supports business-led innovation in all sectors, technologies and UK regions, helping businesses grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes, and services. ukri.org
  • Farmers are encouraged to join the PulsePEP community, a platform and knowledge exchange hub. For more, visit ncsproject.co.uk
  • All press enquiries for NCS should be directed to BOFIN Farmers info@bofin.org.uk, or contact Skye Melita (skye@bofin.org.uk, 07483 238577)

 

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