A global increase in the consumption of livestock products has driven a rise in demand for protein-based animal feeds. The most common vegetable protein comes from soya bean meal, a highly digestible by-product of oil extraction and represents 55 per cent of the global production of oilseeds.
The price of soya has risen significantly as demand has increased. As a result, British farmers like me are starting to see it as a possible alternative break crop as yields are becoming more reliable, the agronomy of the crop more understood and a gross margin more competitive with other proteins
Years ago the varieties produced pods too close to the ground, the agronomy information was sparse and most importantly the market price for soya was only around £135 per tonne. We dropped oilseed rape from our rotation three years ago and since then I have been watching the development of soya with visits to field trials in 2015.
The attraction of soya being drilled in the first week of May meant that there was a chance to clean the stale seedbed land with Roundup – an opportunity to reduce black-grass. So after a gap of about 15 years I took the plunge and grew 8 hectares of soya again with Soya UK Limited
We patiently waited for the soil to warm up and with good moisture in the top 4cm we drilled at 150kg per hectare in order to achieve a plant count of around 50-60 plants per sqm.
Once the crop is up it is essential to keep it free of pigeons until the first true leaves appear and the hairy leaves are less palatable. We applied small quantities of P and K (phosphate and potash) fertiliser to help correct the Indices of 1+ and -2 respectively. We also used 125kg per hectare of 26 N 35 S to give the crop a growth boost.
Weed control is relatively simple and there is an acceptable armoury except for deadly nightshade, which reduced our plant population towards the end of the growing season through smothering.
The variety we grew was Pripyat and although it podded well up the stalk there were too many pods near the ground and the stem extension was disappointing although the ground canopy was excellent. The variety Siverka grows some 30-40cm taller, but both have exceptional standing power right up to combining at up to 14 per cent moisture, when we desiccated the headlands to kill off the nightshade.
Costs were £135.90 per hectare for seed; £92.95 per hectare for sprays; and £62 per hectare for fertilisers. Total cost: £290.85 per hectare.
When I planted the crop I anticipated a yield of around 2.25-2.5 tonnes per hectare and a price of £300 plus. As it has turned out, the yield was disappointing at 1.7 tonnes per hectare but the price was £400 per hectare. Despite being well below expectations, the resulting gross margin of £389.15 per hectare would have cost us much less than growing oilseed rape and soya contributed to my Ecological Focus Area.
Would I grow it again? The answer is yes. We plan to change the variety to Siverka, to slightly increase the seed rate and choose a field where there is no deadly nightshade.