Soybean Is Likely to Be a Viable Crop in the UK


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Aug 17, 2023 | Agricultural Markets News

Reading time: 2 minutes

A new study has shown that Soybean could be more widely farmed in the UK. The report’s authors from Rothamsted Research say the crop, which is currently only grown in minimal quantities, could be more successful across southern England. Climate change will mean it could also be grown for profit as far north as the Scottish borders within just a few decades.

Lead author Kevin Coleman said: “Our results suggest that by 2050 Soybean should be a viable crop across most of England and south Wales. “Yields would be enough to make it an economically attractive option for farmers, with the added benefits of reduced nitrogen fertilizer needs and the fact that Soybean has very few pests or diseases here.”

Most of the world’s Soybean is currently grown in the Americas, and 3.2M tons are imported into the UK each year, where it is mainly used to feed livestock. Recent advances in plant breeding have produced easy-to-harvest Soybean varieties suitable for the UK’s cold, wet climate – overcoming what were the main barriers to take up by farmers.

Over three years, the researchers grew 14 varieties at two sites in England and then used modeling to extrapolate the results to 26 sites across the UK. In addition, the model was used to predict how Soybean would mature and the associated yield using weather data under current, near-future (2041-60), and far-future (2081-2100) climate scenarios.

The analysis revealed that under the current climate, early developing varieties will mature in the south of the UK, but the probability of failure increases with latitude.

“Under climate change, some of these varieties are likely to mature as far north as southern Scotland,” said Coleman. “With more significant levels of CO2, yield is predicted to increase by as much as half a ton per hectare at some sites in the far future, but this is tempered by other effects of climate change, meaning that for most sites, no meaningful increase in yield is expected.

“Soybean is likely to be a viable crop in the UK and for similar climates at similar latitudes in Northern Europe in the future,” said Coleman. The right variety must be selected for the local climate and growing season characteristics. Providing those varieties can match the quality of imported Soybean. The financial attractiveness of the crop will be determined by the margin achieved over growing costs, which is dependent upon how the grower values the additional benefits of the crop, such as spreading the workload, weed control, and the benefit to rotation.

Soybean Import and Consumption in the UK

The UK imports a significant volume of Soybeans each year, predominately for crushing, food, and livestock feed. The leading supplier is Brazil, followed by the United States and Canada. Soybean imports compete directly with rapeseed in the livestock feed sector. Soybean imports for crushing, mainly from Brazil, have increased in MY 2022/23 but are forecast to decline in MY 2023/24 due to the expectation of another large rapeseed crop. According to AgFlow data, Brazil exported 344,593 tons of Soybeans to the UK in January – June 2023.

The UK is expected to increase the amount of Soybean crushed by 50,000 MT (6 percent) in MY 2022/23, despite reduced demand from feed compounders. This will be partly offset by reduced imports and less of a stock drawdown than in MY 2021/22. In MY 2023/24, a marginal increase in feed use is forecast, met by increased imports, given that soymeal production is forecast to decline. Argentina remains the key supplier to the UK market, followed by Brazil and Paraguay.

UK Soybean oil imports and food use remain strong, while industrial use is now just 15,000 MT per year as UK biofuel production focuses on grain and corn. Any fluctuation in the crush is met by imports, all from the European Union.

 Other Sources: ROTHAMSTED

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