We’re heading into mid-April and the majority of spring crops still have to be planted. Among those crops is spring beans.

Last year, almost 15,000ha of spring beans were planted across the country. And a chunk of them in early April. Ideally beans would be planted in February or March, but many of those April-sown crops did well come harvest time and had lower inputs.

However, some were a struggle to harvest, as ripening was delayed and weather in September was wet.

The important thing to note though is that many farmers did well out of bean crops last year.

As time moves on, some farmers are thinking about moving away from beans. They consider it a risky crop, as harvest may be delayed and yield may decline. One thing to consider is, with a late sowing, crop growth stages will be later and so flowering may run into dry weather. If dry weather comes, this may lead to less pods and lower yield.

However, we don’t know what the weather will be like and the protein payment definitely provides great insurance for growers.

Costs and profits

Table 1 shows a quick rundown of possible returns from beans in 2024. We have estimated the protein payment at €412/ha. That’s provided the area of protein and protein-cereal mix crops remains the same at almost 17,000ha. This could be higher or lower.

The production costs are from the Teagasc crop costs and returns for 2024. The total cost of growing a crop of spring beans came in at €1,064/ha in that report.

However, there are opportunities to cut some costs. You still need a good seedbed, seed, phosphorus and potassium and herbicide.

One advantage of growing beans is to get problem weeds under control with different chemistry, so this should still be done.

There is an opportunity to cut fungicide spend, as the crop will not be in the ground for as long and if a strong fungicide programme is applied, then the crop will probably still be very green when you would like to be harvesting.

For this reason, Table 1 includes a cost of production figure with a 50% reduction in fungicide spend of €1,016/ha.

If you take the protein payment at €412/ha, place yield at 1.5t/ac and the price for beans at 20% moisture content at €250/t, which is available on contracts, then total income from the beans sold and the protein payment would come to €1,349.50/ha. Minus the costs with a reduced fungicide spend, that would bring the profit to €334/ha on owned land.

The 1.5t/ac or 3.75t/ha is only an estimate. The yield could be much higher or of course looking back on a year like 2018, which had a drought, it could be lower.

Growers should also take the yield of the following crop into account. A good crop rotation can improve soil health and bump up the next crop’s yield, in most cases, and can reduce nitrogen spend on that crop.

Break crops are also necessary for many farmers under CAP requirements. Also, if you sow a different crop this year instead of beans, you will have a spend on nitrogen fertiliser for that crop.

Protein payment

The protein payment will be a huge factor in deciding to plant or not. It is guaranteed income, albeit we don’t know exactly what that income will be.

In 2023, the scheme had 1,350 applicants. The minister increased the budget from €7m to €10m and a total of €8.5m was spent. There were over 16,200ha of peas, beans and lupins planted. Those farmers were paid €583/ha.

Farmers who planted a mixed crop of cereals and protein were paid half of the protein payment, which came to €291.50/t. Approximately, 1,750ha of these crops were planted.

It should be noted the budget for the Protein Aid Scheme is currently €7m. So, if the same area is planted to these crops again, then the payment would be approximately €412/ha and €206/ha for the mixed crop. There is currently no indication that the budget will be increased.

2023 payment

In 2023, the payment was topped up to the Department of Agriculture’s original payment projections. The Protein Aid Scheme aims to increase protein area to 20,000ha by 2030.

Table 2 shows the predicted increases in protein area and related protein payments from 2023 to 2027.

The Department had predicted a protein area of 12,007ha for 2023 and a payment of €583/ha. The area was much greater. When the minister topped up the payment, it was topped up to the original level of payment that had been predicted.

Sowing beans from Wexford to Westmeath

On last week’s Tillage Podcast, we caught up with contractor John Hughes while he was planting outside Athy, Co Kildare, last Tuesday 2 April. John plants beans across the country from Wexford to Westmeath.

Contractor John Hughes sows beans across the country with a Claydon Direct Drill. He spoke to the Irish Farmers Journal while planting a crop last Tuesday, 2 April.

He reminded people of the practicalities of changing your mind on planting beans, as you need to secure seed for other crops and he also warned against moving away from your crop rotation strategy.

John advised farmers to plant their seed at approximately three inches deep at this time of the year.

In a normal year he would plant at four inches deep and possibly five inches deep earlier in the season to keep crows at bay, but where soil temperatures are warming up and other crops are planted to keep crows away, then he will plant at three inches deep.

Top tip

John’s top tip for the season ahead was to “try and stay calm”.

He said contractors have a lot of people to deal with at the minute and “a little bit of patience will go a long way”.

  • You can listen to the full podcast here.