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It’s only taken 1300 years to get to the UK!

Date Added: 27/01/2017

Blog: by Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

 I am referring to the growing of soya beans. Historians tell us soya was first domesticated in Southeast Asia by Chinese farmers around 1100 BC. The spread of production was initially very slow and had only arrived in Japan by the first century AD.

I think it would be fair to say that the arrival of soya beans in the USA in 1765 (in what was then the British colony of Georgia ) saw the beginning of large scale production.  Although, it took the Americans until early in the 20th century to really get their act together in terms of rotation and variety selection and widespread production.  Today the USA is the largest single producer of soya beans, but by no means the only country in the world to grow soya. Some 1300 years after domestication, it is now the turn of the UK to become a genuine soya producer.

Soya being harvested in the UK

There have been several attempts to grow crops of soya in the UK and, until about three years ago, none were successful due to a combination of poor plant architecture and late harvest. 

With the latest varieties, bred in Europe, these problems have been overcome and we suggest that it is now time for growers whose land is located south of a line drawn from Bristol to The Wash to seriously consider planting the crop.

What has it got to offer over existing spring planted combinable crops?

  • Potentially the highest gross margin of any spring combinable crop.
  • Low input break crop.
  • Is recognised as a legume for both greening and the three crop rule.
  • Leaves more residual nitrogen than other legume crops
  • Easy to combine as the crop stands bolt upright.
  • Planted from late April to early May, giving plenty of opportunity to control black grass pre-drilling.

Some commentators have suggested that any soil type is suitable. We disagree. This plant should to be sown in a warm, well-structured seedbed. This virtually rules out heavy soil. We would advise farmers to stick to light to medium soils and in addition, delay drilling until the soil temperature has risen to 10 deg C when measured at 9.00am.  In this way, the seed will germinate and grow quickly, producing a plant that will then capture sunlight efficiently.

Soya growing in the UK

Your independent farmer-owned co-operative, United Oilseeds, began life by pioneering the production of oilseed rape in the UK at a time when it was thought unlikely that the autumn sown crop could stand the rigours of a UK winter.

But we gradually saw the crop move north up the country, as knowledge and experience grew.  Oilseed rape has now become the most profitable combinable break crop for farmers in the UK.

We view soya in the same way and wish to encourage growers to try the crop. We have a Grower Guide and seed is available. Please contact your local United Oilseeds Area Manager for details on growing and marketing this exciting crop.

Soya may be a new crop to the UK, but it has been cultivated for 1300 years and grown in a great many countries.  It is time that England became one of those countries.

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