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Field Beans

Quick Facts

  • Field beans are a high protein crop well-suited to the Irish climate with a relatively high yield potential (6-8 t/ha for winter and 4.5-7.5 t/ha for spring varieties). Annual production has increased from 3,000ha to 11,000ha in recent years aided by a protein crop support scheme.
  • An excellent break-crop, as it is an N-fixing legume, which benefits the succeeding cereal crop in rotations.
  • Large animal feed market for protein crops with the potential to displace approximately 1.2Mt of imported protein feed. Limited potential to develop export potential for beans for human nutrition.
  • Perceived variability in yield, limited varietal development and limited specific agronomy information (including disease control) are deficits which need to be addressed to ensure continued development of this valuable break crop.
  • Market end-users need to be assured of the value of beans as a protein source in rations, and of continued supply, to ensure they will be considered as valuable native-produced protein and energy source.

Crop Description

  • Vicia faba, also known as the broad bean, fava bean, faba bean, field bean, bell bean, or tic bean, is a species of bean (Fabaceae) native to North Africa, southwest and south Asia, but extensively cultivated elsewhere.
  • Beans are a leguminous plant with the ability to fix nitrogen, eliminating the need for applied N in the year of production, and they leave residual N for the following crop.
  • While spring sowing type varieties dominate; and can be sown as early as November, winter varieties for October/November only sowing are also available.


  • Internationally, the market for faba beans is both for human food and for animal feed

Human nutrition

  • There is scope to produce beans for food export markets particularly Egypt, where 450,000 tonnes are imported annually; a significant proportion from the UK. However for human consumption, beans should be free of Bruchid beetle damage; a status which may challenge UK and Irish beans in the future.
  • The role of legume crops like beans in human diets may increase in the future as a part replacement for animal protein.

Animal feed

  • The primary Irish market for beans is as a protein and energy source in animal feed rations where more than 1.2 Mt of imported protein feed could be displaced (primarily Soya and Maize Distillers meal).
  • Nutritionally beans can compete favourably with any import sources; its protein and energy characteristics (29 % protein and 13.3 MJ/kg metabolisable energy) are very similar to maize distillers meal and at appropriate price differential can compete favourably with soya. While tannin levels can restrict the inclusion level in certain diets, this is not a barrier to increased use in most diets.
  • Beans are used predominantly in coarse rations for ruminants where there is still the capacity to take twice the 2016 national supply of beans. There is significant further scope for increased use in pelleted rations, to displace imported proteins. Beans can be fed to ruminants, pigs and poultry.
  • The bean crop has the most potential as a native protein source. There is scope to improve the traceability credentials of Irish branded ‘Origin Green’ produce by displacing non-traceable imported protein with native beans. However compounders need to be assured of their feed value and continued supply to ensure they will always be fairly considered as a significant ration component.

Suitability for Ireland

  • Despite their origin, faba beans perform well in the Irish climate as the crop is tolerant of wetter conditions and cool summer temperatures. In dry seasons and on light soils, beans can suffer from drought.
  • Winter sowing can occasionally produce excessive vegatative growth that is susceptible to disease, while early spring establishment can be challenging on medium to heavy textured soils.
  • Soil moisture availability during the months of May to July can impact on pod retention, determining final yield.  Medium/heavier textured soils are favoured.
  • Similar field equipment to that used for cereal production is required but a different sowing and harvest period allows machinery costs to be reduced.
  • Climate challenges which increase the incidence of disease and of high grain moisture at harvest can impact on performance variability.
  • While annual production has been low, there is a long history of bean production and use in Ireland.  Handling and storage systems are available with most of the produce to date processed for use in coarse rations.  

Rotation/Break Crop Benefits

  • Beans are legumes (family Leguminosae), and fix atmospheric N which allows the plant achieve its high protein content, but also supplies N for growth eliminating the need for fertiliser N. The sparing effect on soil N and particularly the availability of N from decaying roots, boosts the yield and reduces the fertiliser N demand of the following crop, and even further into the rotation.
  • As a completely different crop type to cereals, beans act as a useful break in many disease and pest cycles, benefitting yield and cost reduction in the following crop.
  • The different tap root type structure of beans may provide some small benefits to soil structure compared to continuous production of cereal roots.
  • Growing a non-cereal like beans may bring some opportunities for alternative weed control strategies.

Research and Development Status

  • Overall there is a significant deficit in breeding and research for legumes in temperate climates.
  • There has been relatively little legume breeding for temperate climates, in contrast to the warmer-climate soya crop. This has being recognised at EU level and beginning to be addressed.  For our climate, varieties with improved disease resistance (aschochyta, chocolate spot and downy mildew) would offer benefits, as would early harvest varieties and varieties with more determinate growth characteristics.   
  • All aspects of crop physiology; in particular yield formation and factors contributing to it, need further research in our climate, to ensure agronomy, from crop establishment and sowing date to nutrition and disease control, can be tailored to optimise crop structure for yield.
  • As our climate presents fungal disease challenges and research on disease control has been limited, there is a need to develop an integrated approach to disease control including varietal resistance, agronomic factors and fungicide use strategies.
  • Pest and weed control challenges also need to be addressed.

Crop Production Summary

  • Select a suitable site (soil type and rotation position) and set a sowing date target (winter or spring) suitable for site considering disease challenge factors. Select a variety valuing disease resistance in addition to yield (limited scope currently).
  • Sow in late Oct/Nov or late Feb/March targeting established plant populations of 18 and 30 plants/m2 respectively. Use drills capable of deep sowing with conventional or  reduced cultivation systems.
  • Reduce aschochyta risk by sowing in spring. Chocolate spot and occasionally downey mildew will frequently require a fungicide programme from flowering onwards.
  • Pests include birds (crows) at sowing, pea/bean weevil at early plant development and black bean aphid prior to flowering; all which may need control methods depending on threshold levels.
  • Fertiliser P and K should be applied on the basis of soil nutrient test status. Soil pH should be corrected by liming if necessary. Beans do not require fertiliser N.
  • Harvest can be late (Sept / Oct) requiring careful decision making to avoid high grain moisture.