The prolonged 2017 harvest, which saw the first winter beans combined “exceptionally early” in late July, is not over with some spring beans in Scotland not expected to be ready until mid October. But there are widespread quality issues.

“Winter beans have generally outperformed spring beans,” reports Roger Vickers, chief executive of the Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO). “Winter beans are averaging about 5 tonnes/ha, with spring beans perhaps a tonne behind. The range is from 2.5t/ha – 8t/ha depending on grower, crop and local circumstances.

“Beans in the southern England yielded well, but significant bruchid beetle damage has seen almost 80% fail to make the human consumption grade.  However, the northern crop is traditionally far less prone to bruchid activity. There remains the possibility of staining if mature crops with split pods stand wet for a prolonged period.”

Franek Smith, president of the British Edible Pulse Association, reports feed bean values of £150-155/tonne ex-farm, although the stronger sterling is making feed exports less attractive. UK feed buyers are waiting to see if prices start to fall, especially as the shortfall of human consumption grades increase feed quality supplies. Mr Smith believes around 50,000t has been committed to Italian and Spanish markets on the back of weaker sterling, but “this interest may slacken if the recent currency rally continues and would put backpressure on prices in the domestic market”.

Tighter supplies of human consumption spec beans from both the UK and Baltic origins is causing prices to rise, with premiums of £10 to £25/tonne depending on visual appearance – a £15/tonne increase in the last month. “With quantity, quality and currency even more uncertain than normal, it is hard to put a clear direction on values – perhaps sellers hedging their bets are taking a wise decision,” comments Mr Smith.

“Pea crops have been extremely variable too and the quality – especially of marrowfat peas – will have been very disappointing for many growers,” states Mr Vickers. “Both blues and marrowfats were compromised by the wet weather at harvest, which resulted in significant bleaching.”  He says pea yields and crop quality have been disappointing – the average 2017 yield is around 3 to 3.5 tonnes/ha in a 1t – 6.7 tonnes/ha range.

Mr Smith adds that about 90% of marrowfat peas have excess bleaching. While top quality samples can fetch from £230/tonne for export to £170/tonne for canning, feed grades are worth £145/tonne. Some 70% of large blue samples are bleached, with best quality worth £210/tonne. The small market for yellow pas is very quiet, with the few lots traded worth some £180/tonne ex-farm.

Feed material buyers prefer to use feed beans to peas due to the more consistent supply and higher protein, concludes Mr Smith. Therefore there are few homes for feed peas and they will be a discount to feed beans.

DEFRA’s June 2017 crop area survey shows an 8.7% increase in bean area to 188,700ha and a 21.6% fall in pea plantings to 39,200ha, when compared with 2016.