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Faba beans becoming more popular

Crops, like most things, come and go, and at times they then find a way to gain renewed interest yet again. One such crop appears to be fababeans, at least in terms of East Central Saskatchewan.

         Crops, like most things, come and go, and at times they then find a way to gain renewed interest yet again.

         One such crop appears to be fababeans, at least in terms of East Central Saskatchewan.

         The crop was once talked about quite a lot as one with potential for Prairie producers. That was at least a decade ago when pulse crops were making their first substantial inroads into Prairie farm crop rotations, and producers and researchers were both looking at a number of different crop options.

         Field peas and lentils tended to win out back then, and fababeans became a rather small niche crop.

         But there is now renewed interest, at least if a recent field day near Yorkton was an indication.

         Parkland College and the East Central Research Foundation held their third annual research farm field day July 23, with projects which included wheat fungicide and plant growth regulator trials, canola fungicide and seed treatments, flax fungicide trials, and fertility trials for oats and canary seed, and a look at fababean varieties.

          The crop can be productive, with one Canora, SK. area producer suggesting average yield of more than 50 bushels to the acre, with best yields over 90.

          At the same time he admitted challenges with seeding the large beans, and dealing with very tall plants which require an application of herbicide in the fall to facilitate harvesting.

          That said fababeans are very good at fixating nitrogen, and with the added growth, puts that crop residue back into the soil as well.

          Of course that is why pulse crops in general became popular on the Prairies. While creating an alternate crop options selling into a huge market for edible pulses, the crops also helped reduce the need to nitrogen fertilizer in the follow year’s crop. With N fertilizer being one of the largest crop input costs fixating nitrogen through pulse crops makes a lot of sense.

         But not all pulse crops lived up to expectations, fababeans likely on the list, although as stated they seem to be making a comeback of sorts.

         Pinto beans was one that did not make the grade, even with significant interest not so long ago.

         Garth Patterson, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, said about 20,000 acres of beans were seeded in the province this spring, 65 per cent of the total was in irrigated districts, related a 2001 Western Producer article.

         Pinto beans were the Cinderella story back then, with Pintium an early maturing, upright variety of pinto bean developed by the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre front line and centre.

         While the market is there for such beans, they never managed to become agronomically viable here.

          Lupins have much the same story, much interest being accorded the pulse crop a decade and a half ago, but now a small niche, if grown at all.

          Of course one of the barriers to some of these crops becoming important on the Prairies is a lack of varietal research and development.

          Soybeans, because of the sheer size of the crop around the world has millions spent on research, and that has led to varieties with shorter growing seasons, which has expanded the crop area of the beans from south of Winnipeg only a few years ago, to east central Saskatchewan and western Manitoba today.

          But smaller crops see less dollars spent.

          Take canary seed currently a crop targeted for bird seed. There has been talk of human consumption canary seed for some years, but it has been slow to happen as dollars to invest in such a development process are limited based on the limited overall importance of the crop.

          Granted investment dollars might grow the importance of a crop through a development like opening canary seed to the human consumption market, but it’s hard to risk the dollars on a ‘maybe’.

          Still, some crops which have come and gone might yet become of some importance to Prairie producers if research were to create varieties which could overcome some past shortfalls.