Soya is a controversial crop both in terms of its environmental reputation and its potential in UK arable rotations.
But the combination of a growing market for plant-based proteins and concerns over imported South American soya’s sustainability credentials is driving UK companies to rethink their sourcing policies, creating a strong market for home-grown crop in the UK.
Soya has also experienced something of an agronomic upturn in recent years, with an increased chemical armoury now available and varieties more suited to the UK climate.
All this is according to David McNaughton, director of Soya UK, who says a wide choice of pre- and post-emergence herbicides gives the crop a much better set of choices compared to peas and beans and the crop is well-known for its good black-grass control on heavy land.
Effectiveness He says: “We’re well tooled up now. Bean seed fly used to be a problem, but we’ve solved that after using Hallmark and discovered to our amazement it worked incredibly well and we couldn’t believe it gives us almost 100% effectiveness. If you tank mix it with a pre-em it acts as a deterrent. It doesn’t kill [the pest] but stops the female fly from entering the field.”
Variety-wise, the widely grown Siverka has intermediate earliness and should be ready for harvest without desiccation by September 18-28, says Mr McNaughton.
However, this is also when the rains came in the last two seasons, leading to two difficult harvests.
“We believe it will be reliably harvested in September in normal years. In 2018, we saw yields in Kent of 3.45 tonnes/hectare in one field. In reality we hope to get 2.5t/ha but it’s a tantalising glimpse into what is possible. Challenge “Arnica is another new variety, but ironically is too early for East Anglia. Most growers choose Siverka, with others coming along soon.”
Herefordshire farmer Ally Hunter Blair is entering his fifth season growing the crop, but says the main challenge is that varieties are not particularly suited to the UK’s climate.
“We want a harvest date that is in September and because the ground doesn’t warm up quickly enough, we often don’t get it in the ground quick enough to get going.”
The soya harvest at Mr Hunter Blair’s farm in the Wye Valley generally commences in the second week of September, but in the disastrous season of 2019 was more than a month later.
“We’ve had four harvests – two were average, 2018 was very good and 2019 was a disaster.”
We’re targeting the magic 2.5t/ ha, but have only ever achieved that once.
It’s more like 1.8t/ha.
You have to keep a real eye on pigeons too.
Low input “However, it’s very low input. The seed cost is expensive but last year we only spent £8/ha on everything else and the only input was one herbicide.”
This season Mr Hunter Blair will be growing 15ha of the variety Abelina for United Oilseeds.
He adds: “The price is shooting up and it gives a great entry into wheat and fixes a bit of nitrogen. The wheat yields after soya tend to be 0.25t/ha more than following rape. We grew peas before and they were difficult too.”
“In my farming system I’d like to keep a legume in the mix, but our ground is too light for beans.”
Soya also offers what every niche crop grower dreams of – a good, solid market that is not overly picky, adds Mr McNaughton.
He says: “We could put 10,000-12,000ha in the ground with the market how it is.
“As long as you get reasonable quality it’s a pretty forgiving market. It’s a premium market but it’s high volume and not overly fussy [about quality].”