Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
A ground-breaking project to show how pulses can reduce greenhouse gas emissions is looking to recruit eastern region growers. The Nitrogen Climate Smart (NCS)... Pulse Pioneers seek top eastern region growers

A ground-breaking project to show how pulses can reduce greenhouse gas emissions is looking to recruit eastern region growers.

The Nitrogen Climate Smart (NCS) project aims to increase pulse and legume cropping in arable rotations to 20% (currently 5%) – and displace up to half the soya imported into the country for animal feed.

The PGRO-led initiative involves a consortium of 17 industry partners – and hundreds of farmers. It seeks to rapidly evolve knowledge and understanding of growing peas and beans – while testing and trialing new feed rations.

Funded by Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme and delivered by Innovate UK, the consortium aims to reduce emissions by 1.5Mt CO2e per annum – equivalent to 54% of the maximum potential for UK agriculture.

PGRO chief executive Roger Vickers  says achieving the goal will be steered by science – and proven by farmers through a series of paid-for on-farm trials. These are being coordinated by the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN).

Bringing together knowledgeable individuals like this – and sharing ideas between partner organisations – is at the heart of NCS, explains Mr Vickers. “There’s never been a project on this scale with this much ambition.”

Pulse Pioneers

Ten innovators – called Pulse Pioneers – have been selected to receive payment in exchange for working with scientists. They are co-designing trials to carry out on their own farms, with crops being drilled this spring.

BOFIN founder and farmer Tom Allen-Stevens says has been delighted by the level of interest from across the farming industry. But he wants to make sure East Anglia is represented as the second year of trials gets underway.

“The engagement we’ve had has been fantastic,” he says. “We’ve had a huge amount of media coverage and well over 300 people have got involved with our PulsePEP, exceeding our initial target.

“We’ve obviously hit a chord – people are enthused, engaged and love the concept behind the project. But we were surprised when we realised that no farms from the Anglia region were involved in the first year of the trial.”

Growers can sign up at ncsproject.co.uk. “It’s a shame that such a vital area in England for arable farming isn’t represented by our group of Pulse Pioneers – but we’re determined to remedy this as the project moves forward.”

Bigger picture

Lincolnshire organic farmer Paul Barnes is among the cohort of Pulse Pioneers. He says he was keen to join the NCS project to increase his understanding of the crop – and their benefits.

“People often question the returns, but I’m interested in the bigger, wider picture of what we can do. We’ve got to try to understand the benefits of pulse crops. However, we need to know the failures too, such as harvest losses.

“Being organic, I need to fully understand the benefits of including them in a rotation and where they should sit.”

Fellow Pulse Pioneer Rob Waterston, who farms near Newbury in West Berkshire, has grown winter beans for the past six years on his farm, with varying results. He has adapted the way the beans are planted but is keen to explore other options.

Profitable crop

“If farmers can learn more from each other and share ways to make beans a more profitable crop, then that must be a good thing,” he says.

“With the Sustainable Farming Incentive, it would be quite easy to not grow beans, or any other break crops. The safer bet would probably be to go down the legume fallow route and just take the money.

“But we still need to grow food in this country. And there’s no denying that beans are a great break crop, but unfortunately there are some years where they don’t return a profit.

“The wheat crop that follows our beans always looks good, so they must be leaving some nitrogen in the soil, but how much? More research is needed into how much nitrogen beans fix in the soil and what the benefits are to soil health.”