UK farmers ready to grow their own beans

Baked beans may be a British staple, but climate change means the key ingredient could soon be grown in this country for the first time.

A combination of warmer temperatures and cutting-edge science could see the first UK baked beans grown in fields near Sleaford, Lincs.

And those behind the breakthrough have praised scientists from 50 years ago, having unearthed some long-forgotten 1970s research.

Until now it has proved impossible to home-grow the haricot variety used for the breakfast staple because of the UK weather.

Thousands of tonnes of dried haricot beans are imported to the UK each week by the major brands, with produce coming from the US, Canada, Ethiopia and China.

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Some health food brands have attempted to market British-grown fava beans as baked beans, but they have lacked mass appeal as they taste quite different.

Now, after 12 years of research, scientists reckon they have come up with a seed that will enable the plants to thrive in England.

And farmers and scientists believe the pioneering crop of beans sown in Lincolnshire will finally mark the start of home-grown beans on toast.

“It’s the first commercial-scale planting of a variety of haricot bean that could end up on everybody’s supper table,” declared Andrew Ward, the excited farmer growing the beans.

“Right now we don’t have any beans grown here suitable for baked beans – our climate isn’t right for producing this type of bean.”

Scientists at the University of Warwick developed the new seeds which can be sown in early May and harvested as a dry grain before mid-September, matching the UK’s warmer months.

Prof Eric Holub, from the university’s life sciences department, said not having to rely on imp-orts could help avoid baked bean shortages.

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He explained: “The work I have been involved with started in 2011. But actually, it was inherited material that had been used here on the university farm in the 1970s and 80s. It had been put into storage, but it was in 2011 that I realised there was some valuable material and I started reviving it.”

The current crop being grown in Leadenham, near Sleaford, will be ready to harvest in late August.

It will be a dream come true for food policy expert Prof Tim Lang from City, University of London.

He said: “It has been a desire of the British food industry and baked bean manufacturers for decades to have a British baked bean.

“When I started in food policy 40 years ago people were wanting this.

“It’s crazy shipping a little bean halfway round the world just to put it in a can with some tomato sauce.”

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