They're bidding to ensure Scotland’s farms stay full of beans – and their work could even protect future food supplies.

Researchers from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have teamed up with counterparts from across Europe in a drive to understand factors affecting the growth of legumes.

It comes as data suggests yields of major crops in Europe have begun to stagnate, sparking concerns over how to maintain production for an increasing population.

Farmers are often reluctant to grow beans because yields are more variable and less reliable than those of cereals.

But a system dominated by a narrow range of crops is likely to deplete the soil and impact negatively on its output.

Now SRUC experts are calling on farmers in Scotland and England to share their experience with legumes by completing an anonymous survey.

The results will be analysed alongside those from partners based in Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

Researchers hope the project will give them a deeper insight into what might be influencing yields at different agricultural locations across the country, allowing them to put together advice and information which could encourage more farmers to grow beans.

The hope is that rotating legumes with other crops will boost soil health, reduce the reliance on pesticides and fertiliser, and help tackle the issue of flattening output.

Christine Watson, Professor of Agricultural Systems at SRUC, said: “The number of different crops which farmers grow has gone down over time.

“People used to use crop rotation much more because they needed it to stop disease and build fertility in the soil.

“We do not need rotations so much now because we have fertilisers and pesticides.

“Agriculture has shifted from traditional rotation to being able to grow fewer crops.

“But a system dominated by fewer crops is one factor which can affect soil health and lead to stagnating yields.

“If you go back to a more traditional crop rotation system then you might not need to use as much fertiliser and pesticide, while maintaining crop yields overall.

“Yields of major crops, such as cereals, are reasonably flat right now but we have to think about producing for an increasing population.

“We don’t want a decline against an increasing need for food security.”

Ms Watson said understanding why some farmers do not experience the same degree of variability when growing beans could lead to adoption of new approaches across the UK’s agricultural sector.

“The survey is about looking at the factors which influence bean crop yields,” she said.

“If something grows very variably then you are not so keen on growing it.

“If we can understand whether variable yields is something that some farmers find a big issue while others do not, we can start to understand the reasons why some are more successful at getting a more stable yield of beans and share that information across the agricultural sector.

“Is it related to geography or technology, or is it about skill?

“This could then encourage more farmers to grow beans as part of a rotation system which could contribute to addressing the issue of stagnating yields of major crops.”

It is hoped that the Defra-funded research will make a crucial contribution to ensuring the security of future food supplies, particularly as concern grows over climate change and the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Watson said the survey results may also boost efforts to produce entirely new varieties of bean in the UK.

“The local supply of food is important in the current situation,” she added.

“It’s one of those situations where you do not know how reliable some of the usual food supply channels are going to be.

“The faba bean is the bean that’s usually grown in Scotland and England. It’s the most common.

“However, the information we get from this survey might prove useful in breeding new varieties of bean that could be grown more reliably, thus encouraging more farmers to grow them as part of a crop rotation system.”