As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Meeting the demand for home-grown soya
by Arable Farming
With growers that have dropped oilseed rape from the rotation now left with a hard-to-fill void in their break crop options, Alice Dyer takes a look at the prospects for soya.
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].”
Soya can be found in many food cupboard staples including bread, crisps, instant noodles and is also widely used in dog food and fish bait.
However, where the most opportunity lies for UK farmers is as a meat alternative, says Stephen Trutt, head of supply chain and procurement at AB Mauri in Hertfordshire, the UK’s only soya flour mill.
The company has created the brand NaturaSoy, which he says gives UK growers a potential market for more than 16,000 tonnes of the crop.
“We currently bring it in from Canada because many years ago when GM soya came into the US, Round Up Ready beans weren’t suited to the Canadian climate.”
Switch However, it is now getting harder to convince Canadian growers to stay away from GM varieties and the company wants to switch its supply to UK-grown soya beans.
“From a sustainability angle this is what excites retailers and it’s more accessible for us. There’s a lot of bad press about soya. All of the soya AB Mauri uses is certified sustainable and we have to be confident in that because any time there’s an issue around soya and deforestation we get a lot of enquiries about where our crop comes from and whether we are following the right sustainability principles.”
“With NaturaSoy we’re looking at new markets for soya to counteract some of the bad press around it because it’s a great source of protein and a fantastic source of plant-based ingredients. With a big shift into plant-based meat alternatives, soya is very interesting for that market.”
Scottish crop of the future
Soya is typically grown in the southern half of the country where temperatures are warmer, but a new study by Rothamsted Research has found that climate change will mean soya could be grown for profit as far north as the Scottish Borders within just a few decades.
Lead author Kevin Coleman says: “Our results suggest that by 2050 soybean should be a viable crop across most of England and south Wales.”
“Yields would be enough to make it an economically attractive option for farmers, with the added benefits of reduced nitrogen fertiliser needs and the fact that soybean has very few pests or diseases here.”
Results Over three years the researchers grew 14 different varieties at two sites in England and then used modelling to extrapolate the results to 26 sites across the UK.
The model was also used to predict how soybean would mature and the associated yield using weather data under current, near-future (2041-60) and far-future (2081-2100) climate scenarios.
The analysis revealed that under the current climate, early developing varieties will mature in the south of the UK, but the probability of failure increases with latitude.
“Under climate change some of these varieties are likely to mature as far north as southern Scotland,” said Mr Coleman.
“With greater levels of CO2, yield is predicted to increase by as much as half a tonne per hectare at some sites in the far future, but this is tempered by other effects of climate change meaning that for most sites no meaningful increase in yield is expected. “However, with climate change, varieties that mature later will become viable in the South and this will also have positive implications on yield potential.”