The skills of plant breeders, added to advances in breeding and genetic technology, have transformed the yield and agronomic characters of pulse varieties for UK growers over just a few decades and form a firm base for the increased pulse crop area in 2015 and beyond.
“It is a fact that UK bean yields seen in PGRO Recommended Lists have risen approximately 30% since the mid 1960s for spring beans, with winter beans showing similar improvements since the mid 1970s,” points out Roger Vickers, PGRO Chief Executive. “Peas are more difficult to assess as each type of pea requires its own breeding and assessment programme. However, since the 1980s, breeders have again succeeded in increasing variety performance of white, marrowfat, large and small blue peas by around 25-35%.
“These yield increases gives a firm base for the increased pulse crop area that we will surely see in 2015 and beyond driven by the 5% Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) requirement under CAP greening rules, as well as the new Crop Diversification rules (CD).
“There have also been major improvements in the agronomic characteristics that show up in the PGRO Recommended Lists. For example, development by breeders has produced today’s pea varieties with a transformation in plant habit to produce semi-leafless peas along with improvements in standing ability, disease resistance and maturity improvements that have all contributed significantly to productivity.
“We need to remember that breeding pulse varieties that perform in the UK is a specialist operation - varieties that perform well in our maritime climate rarely do well in continental Europe and vice versa. So it is good news that the breeders continue to deliver the gains they do given the niche nature of the market and the costs of maintaining a programme and the sustained investment levels required to make progress.
“Also the combining pea area is split across five distinctly different types of pea with the bean market similarly split between spring and winter types so, given the fragmented nature of the market, rewards for the breeder are hard to realise.
“With the renewed focus on rotations and cropping patterns and the recent changes in CAP reform there is considerable grower enthusiasm for pulses in 2015/2016 and it is anticipated that the area grown may increase by as much as 30%, with traders reporting significant opportunities for growers and a continuing strong market. The improvements in varieties seen in recent years - and in the breeders varietal pipeline - will help to sustain this growth in the pulse crop.”