UK pea and bean growers are invited to become ‘pulse pioneers’ and be paid to carry out on-farm trials which will contribute to ground-breaking research.
The Nitrogen Climate Smart (NCS) Project aims to facilitate the increase of pulse cropping from 5% to 20% in arable rotations, and displace up to half the imported soya meal used in livestock feed rations.

At least 40 farmers will be recruited and the first contracts to conduct the work have been signed this week.


Tom Allen-Stevens, founder of the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN), is leading the farm trials work. “We’re looking for farmers who are growing, or plan to grow, beans or peas this season and who are growing them in the rotation for the next four years,” he says.

“We’ll offer support and payment for them to monitor the crop. In particular, we want to compare an area grown to pulses with one that isn’t over a period of four years. This rotational platform approach will enable us to monitor the benefits of pulse crops through the rotation.”

OSR replacement

One of the first farmers to commit to becoming a pulse pioneer is Will Oliver of Osbaston House farm in Leicestershire. Will is an award-winning mixed arable and poultry farmer with a 200,000-bird broiler coupled with 850ha of arable land which is put to winter wheat, maize, winter beans and permanent pasture countryside stewardship.

“Pulses are really important to us because we’re not growing oilseed rape anymore,” explains Will. “They’re our break crop with an early entry – in most years – and good for the ground as well.

“They provide a nitrogen and organic matter boost. Just having to use less bagged fertiliser in general is a positive,” he says.

Underrated crop

Will first heard about the NCS Project in late 2023 and decided he was interested in being part of work to improve the understanding of the potential beans have in UK agriculture. “I just think beans have never really had as much research into them as they deserve. Maybe if we can fine-tune how we grow them a bit, tweak varieties perhaps, we might be able to get a bit more out of them,” he says.

Will’s winter beans usually return between three and four t/ha with an average of 4.2t/ha in 2023. But for Will it’s not all about yield. “People tend to call profit what you actually get in your bank at the end. But then you can say, right, our soils are in good condition, and we’re saving a pass on our wheat establishment.

“So sometimes you have to look away from the money side of things and see what else it brings to the rotation, especially in this current climate,” he explains.

Trial protocol

The exact details of what he wants to trial for the NCS Project are yet to be set in stone. “I’m still looking at options but I’d like to include a trial I’m planning of QLF boost (a liquid carbon-based fertiliser). I’ll probably do tramline trials spreading a molasses product. We’ve had quite good results with maize and wheat, so it’d be interesting to see where beans come in on that.

“I’m just interested in how we can grow a crop better and be a bit more efficient, and the monitoring I’ll be doing as a pulse pioneer will help understanding,” says Will.

Pea and bean crops put forward by pulse pioneers will be entered into the ADAS Pulse YEN which gives growers detailed feedback on how the crop has performed through the season, as well as an analysis of yield.

Project objectives

The NCS Project has a set of objectives which if achieved, would transform UK arable rotations while making an considerable contribution towards UK agriculture’s carbon-cutting targets.

Reducing emissions by 1.5Mt CO₂e per annum (or 54% of the maximum potential for UK agriculture) is the primary goal which could be achieved by replacing half the imported soya used in livestock feeding rations with home-grown pulses. The project aims to prove this can be achieved by working closely with over 200 farmers.

Led by PGRO, the £5.9m Innovate UK-funded project launched in June 2023 hinges on the consortium of 18 partners and the network of farmers who will carry out trials. To be involved in the project visit