During 2023 Navy Beans have been grown on farm and in trials. The Haricot Bean is used to provide the UK Public with the traditional British Baked Bean.
Every single can of baked beans manufactured here contains beans imported from overseas. The leading brand alone ships 50,000 tonnes of them from North America to the UK each year. So why are we not commercially growing them here? The answer, in part is their commercial viability. With growers statements such as “hopes for yields of about 2.5t/ha” which is not altogether inspiring; then there is the selling price received.
The price of beans, whatever their target market, impacts their attractiveness as an ingredient in alternative protein products. Price is a key barrier to mass-market demand for plant-based products. Price represents a key factor influencing consumer food purchasing behaviour. Expanding domestic production and processing of beans may offer a strategy for reducing costs through economies of scale and shorter supply chains but getting a consistent supply of a quality product at the right price is quite an issue for UK manufacturing especially when we consider our current harvest weather conditions.
Another problem has been the lack of available varieties suited to the British farming system and environment. The work into developing varieties started in the 1970s with work funded by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Foods (MAFF.) Around the mid-1980s, three varieties were being trialled one of which was then Nationally Listed for UK farmers and grown in field-scale trials across England. What followed was a curtailment of interest until 2011 when interest was reignited when a research programme began evaluating stored seed material, again for its suitability’s for UK agriculture and the current market.
Today, trials still continue some 50 years after the initial foray into commercialisation of this crop. Much as I understand an individual would comment thus, “It’s a new crop, so we know very little about it. Several different plots have been established, with varying drill dates to assess optimum planting windows. Plots are also investigating the impacts of a companion crop of black oats to mitigate lodging risks and the effects of a starter fertiliser with hopes for yields of about 2.5t/ha.” However, much is already known; we really need suitable commercial varieties to grow and what we have, to date, is sadly just not good enough.