Industry body wants growers to be aware of the impact of decisions on future rotations

The Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO) is advising growers who are entering agreements for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) to ensure they fully understand the potential impact their decisions will have on future pulse crop rotations.

Beans growing in an arable field

Beans growing in an arable field

Concerns are growing that well-intentioned SFI agreements could negatively impact future pulse production opportunities, according to PGRO. With legumes being included in some SFI options it could mean that they are left in the ground for a number of years – or are very frequently present - increasing the likelihood of soil-borne diseases in future pulse crops.

PGRO has set out a detailed paper written by Dr Becky Howard highlighting some of the potential unintended consequences which it advises farmers to read before embarking on an SFI option. The paper has been published at

PGRO chief executive Roger Vickers explained: “We are not against the Sustainable Farming Incentive; in fact we agree that farmers should be paid for providing positive environmental outcomes. But PGRO and others involved in the pulse sector have serious concerns over the impact some options will have on cropping in the long term.”

Role of legumes in SFI

A number of SFI options encourage the use of either long-term or frequent short-term use of legume species, in either legume-rich ley mixtures or catch and cover crops. Examples include the highly-rewarded NUM3, IPM3, and Countryside Stewardship AB15 options.

Other options are also detracting from more minority crops, in particular Actions for Wildlife AHL 1 and AHL 2, PGRO said.

The potential green bridging effect and risk to future pulse cropping as a result is significant, it explained, as disease and pest levels build in the soil, and may seriously impact the viability of pulse crops in the future. “A normal, sensible rotation, would not encourage pulses closer than one crop in five, and yet in an SFI scenario soils might easily have almost continuous host legumes present”, it said.

Crop protection could also be an issue, Vickers added. “Factoring in that CRD now considers beans to be a major crop and therefore excluded from the EAMU system for agricultural chemical use, and the already minimal portfolio of crop protection products available for pulses in general, this adds to the increasing jeopardy for their future production. Many of the greatest threats are soil-borne disease for which there are no seed treatments available.

“These unintended consequences are not certain as insufficient research has been conducted, but are a logical potential outcome based upon life cycle and alternative host considerations.”

The benefits that pulses bring to the rotation have been recognised many times by the government, PGRO noted. Pulses provide nitrogen, and improve soil fertility for the following crops, they have a favourable environmental profile and growing more of them is seen as having huge potential to help reduce carbon emissions from the UK agricultural sector.

“Hence why there are initiatives such as the NCS Project,” Vickers added. “Growers need to know the possible risks to their pulse-growing capabilities if they do enter an SFI agreement.”

PGRO is asking growers to complete a survey asking farmers what their intentions are this year with regards to growing pulses in light of the SFI. Growers can access the four-question survey here.