Beans mean cheaper protein at Pembrokeshire beef farm

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A beef farm in Pembrokeshire has cut winter feed costs by £33/tonne by replacing a purchased protein mix with home-grown beans and peas.

The Jones family have grown eight hectares (ha) of the crop at Pantyderi Farm, Boncath, as part of their project work as Farming Connect demonstration farmers.

Pulses replaced a 36% protein concentrate blend that had been fed at 1-1.5 kg/head/day with grass silage and urea-treated curled barley grown on place in the grower and finisher rations of 400 head of cattle.

Eurig Jones, who farms with his father, Wyn, says this is an important step towards the goal of becoming protein self-sufficient in the beef business.

The crop, which he harvested on September 3, analyzed 16.4% protein as feed, 13.6 ME and 61.7% dry matter (DM) and achieved a protein as feed yield of 860 kg. /ha as curly food.

Costs calculated by the project’s nutritionist, Hefin Richards of Rumenation, priced the feed at £242/tonne

Not only is the mix cheaper by £33/t, but Mr Richards points out that the cost is constant year on year and not dependent on the volatility of the protein market – in January 2021, prices for soybeans peaked at £480/t.

The Joneses considered growing single crops of beans or lupins, but felt that yields could be significantly improved by bi-cropping beans and peas and curlying them. This allowed storage in an outdoor clamp with processed foods at harvest tight and ready for winter distribution.

The crop prefers free-draining soils and responds well to ample moisture, making it a good choice for Pantyderi conditions.

Lime was applied to the trial field at a variable rate of 937 kg/ha to raise the pH to 5.8 – the ideal pH for beans and peas is 6.5; farmyard manure was applied at a rate of 25 t/ha, no nitrogen input was necessary.

The growth habits of beans and peas are very complementary – beans provide a strong scaffold that helps keep peas upright later in the season; they also benefit from the same agronomic approach, says Dr Delana Davies, Technical Manager of Farming Connect, who managed the trial.

“Double cropping also tends to synchronize any varietal differences in time to maturity and the peas fill the air gaps between the larger particle size of the beans in the claw,” she explains.

The seed was planted in two passes on April 22 – beans were sown first at a rate of 308 kg/ha and a depth of 60 mm followed by peas at 225 kg/ha and a depth of 30 mm; these seeding rates were calculated using an app available from the Processors and Growers Research Organization (PGRO).

A fungicide was applied twice to control the chocolate spot.

Mr. Jones harvested the crop with his own combine harvester, fitted with a side cutter. “The side knife is a must, an essential piece of kit for the job,” he says.

Finding the right time was a balance between having the crop dry enough to go through the combine and having moisture above 30% for crimping.

The harvest yielded 5.25 t/ha – 42 tonnes from 8 ha – and also produced 22 bales/ha of haulm, the fibrous part of the plants which is nutritionally superior to straw.

In systems where soy is fed, on a cost per kg protein basis, soy is cheaper at £0.83 compared to £1.08 for peas and beans, but with some milk contracts and of beef now stipulating that soy should not be fed, Mr Richards says those numbers should not be taken in isolation and the other benefits should be considered.

“There is a real benefit to a following cereal crop because soil fertility is enhanced by the nitrogen fixing characteristics of beans and peas, this combination crop is definitely worth considering,” he says. .

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