Finger on the pulse (ORC/CAWR)

As 2016 is the International Year of Pulses, this workshop includes speakers highlighting the practicalities of developing, growing and marketing novel legume crops in the UK.

Session summary

This session on home grown pulses was kicked off by Josiah Meldrum from Hodmedods who explained that the company started when a study of what Norwich would look like if it produced more food in its hinterland included eating more pulses in all scenarios. Following this study locally grown de-hulled split faba beans were distributed to Norwich residents, feedback was positive, revealing a gap in the market. Hodmedod then began to work with farmers trialling different varieties of peas and beans. Josiah mentioned the lentil trials at Wakelyns which will be expanded this year. Mark Lea one of the farmers who supplies Hodmedods then gave his take on growing peas in Shropshire and how he switched from growing peas for fodder. Mark explained how pulses fit into the arable rotation well but that there are additional quality demands when growing for the human market and there can be difficulties with harvesting especially in a bad summer, his trial of Phaseolus dwarf beans last year were still green in October and ended up harvested by hand in November. Georg Carsson and Per Modig wrapped up the session with an overview of experience growing pulses in Sweden. Georg presented results from trials looking at complementarity with grain legume and cereal intercropping systems, with benefits including reduced weed competition, increases in overall productivity and higher protein content in cereals. Per Modig then gave the farmers perspective, one of the biggest problems is weed competition. Intercropping can help combinations which can work are lupins with oats, faba beans with wheat and lentils with oats.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • The risky nature of growing pulses in the UK was highlighted and someone asked whether there were any CSA type models known of. Josiah explained that Hodmedods are considering a lentil share scheme. It was also mentioned that risky crops are better suited to growing in more diverse farm systems or as intercrops.
  • The work by Georg Calsson and Per Modig in Sweden shows that due to their weak growth form lentils are best grown as an intercrop. Oats best work as an intercrop with oats with seed rate kept low to reduce the competitiveness.
  • Cold plasma treatment for grain legume seed was suggested as a way to improve germination time and success rate and help with weed competition.
  • It was suggested that intercropping a grain legume with another pulse would still give a cereal break in a rotation, Hodmedods have done some trials here but they so far haven’t worked.

Action points

  • More trials looking at intercropping a grain legume with another pulse.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Josiah Meldrum (Hodmedod): The growing potential of the UK market for organic pulses (No powerpoint presentation)

Hodmedod emerged from the Norwich Resilient Food Project, a community initiative led by Transition City Norwich and East Anglia Food Link that ran between 2009 and 2012. The company has built on this work; aiming to create shorter, more transparent supply chains for a range of often overlooked and under-valued crops, build relationships with farmers and help to create more diverse farm systems and diets. Initially creating a UK market for field peas and fava beans – grown in Britain for centuries but now rarely eaten – Hodmedod began by redirecting small quantities from the large volumes destined for export. As sales increased the company has been able to work directly with farmers and growers to secure supplies of existing crops and develop new ones; including creating new human consumption markets for British-grown legumes. Hodmedod believes that for some higher value, lower volume dried seeds and grains there’s an overlap between horticultural and arable approaches to cropping. This presentation will outline our current trials, the market gaps we see and the opportunities (and obstacles) these crops present to organic growers.

International Year of Pulses 2016

Mark Lea (Green Acres Farm): Give peas a chance! A farmer’s experience of growing organic pulses (1.38mb pdf file)

After many years of growing organic feed peas I became increasingly unhappy with the market’s lack of appreciation for the effort that was going into the crop. Research of the pulses available for human consumption led me to Hodmedod’s, and contacting them completely changed the direction of the enterprise. Being market led is for me, one of the key principles of organic farming, and working directly with such a dynamic and principled retail company has been really positive for us. Quality requirements are obviously much higher, and growing a range of different peas has meant we’ve had to change the way we work and look for ways to make sure we produce the best quality peas we can.

Georg Carlsson (SLU): Swedish production of organic grain legumes for food – insights from research and practice (671kb pdf file)

Per Modig (Fagraslätt Farm/HIR, Skåne, Sweden):Grain legumes for food – trial and practice (4.39mb pdf file)

Swedish consumers’ interest for vegetarian and organic food is rapidly increasing, which provides new opportunities for farmers to diversify their cropping systems via increased and production of e.g. vegetables and grain legumes such as beans, lentils and peas. Grain legumes are excellent sources of healthy, protein rich food, and provide valuable additional ecosystem services via symbiotic nitrogen fixation and diversification of cropping systems. The currently increasing market demand can therefore stimulate a positive economic development for organic farmers who succeed to increase their production of the desired grain legumes. At the same time, increased grain legumes production has large potential to improve the productivity of subsequent crops and enhance soil fertility via their inputs of biologically fixed nitrogen. We will present some of our practical experience, experimental results and ongoing activities within research and development for increased organic production of common bean and lentil in southern Sweden. Some of the issues that we will talk about are weed management and harvest technology for efficient grain legume production. We will also inform about an ongoing participatory research project together with organic farmers about intercropping grain legumes and cereals.


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