Fababean update

Seed grower Sarah Weigum’s first time seeding and spraying fababeans taught her a lot of lessons. She’s willing to share

In the April issue of Grainews I wrote about a new adventure on our seed farm — growing fababeans. Now it’s the first week of July and the beans have begun to flower. 


We picked up our fababean seed from Benci’s Seed Farm on April 30. Ideally we would have planted them before then, but considering all the snow we had in March and April at Three Hills, Alberta, we were quite pleased to be seeding the fabas by May 3. If we’d known we were going to grow fababeans when the winter started, or if we’d known how long winter was going to last, we might not have pushed all the snow from our yard out into that field. But since we aren’t soothsayers, we had to wait a few extra days for the piles to melt. 


Before seeding I was concerned about how well the large seeds would move through our drill, especially because we have a paired-row opener. Fortunately, it was a non-issue and we hit the target of 250 pounds of seed per acre with only one plug. 


The one issue we had with seeding was a minor one. We use granular inoculant with our peas so it slipped the collective mind that we needed to apply a peat-based, faba-specific inoculant to the treated seed as it was going into the air cart. Luckily, I noticed the box of inoculant in the shop before the drill pulled into the field. 


“We don’t want to screw this up,” was my dad’s pragmatic response when I notified him of our omission. So we unloaded the cart and reloaded it while shaking on the self-stick inoculant, which is a rather unscientific process on our farm. Since we don’t have a metering system, we just eyeballed the right amount of product to seed.


Since seeding, I have learned that the same granular inoculant that we use for our peas is now registered for fababeans as well, so that should make things simpler in future years.


The growing plants


With good moisture in the soil it didn’t take long to find sprouted seeds in the seedbed. We didn’t do a pre-seed burn-down because there was no weed or volunteer emergence before seeding. We considered applying Heat before emergence, but decided there wasn’t enough pressure from the volunteer canola to warrant a trip over the field. 


On June 5 we sprayed Odyssey DLX at 40 acres per case and 10 gallons of water per acre. We also sprayed Basagran on June 26 for control of annual sow thistle. 


Odyssey DLX was given approval for minor use on fababeans in February 2013, although I know a few fababean growers who have been using it for several years. Christine Headon, regulatory products manager for BASF, said that the request for minor-use approval was originally put forward in 2003. BASF requested additional phytotoxicity tests before supporting the application. 


“We don’t want to add a use to our label that would disappoint our growers,” said Headon. With BASF’s support Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada submitted the application to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which requested further residue tests to establish maximum residual levels, before giving final approval.


Since spraying I’ve noticed some discolouring on the leaves. I’ve been told it is not fungus, but likely herbicide burn. Mark Olson, pulse specialist at Alberta Agriculture, says that research still needs to be done on all chemistries used on fababeans. He says some varieties of the same crop respond differently to the same herbicides. Fortunately, our plants seem to be growing out of whatever stress they experienced.


During the summers many fababean growers watch for lygus bugs which attack the mature plant, piercing the seeds with their mouth and leaving dark brown spots on the seeds. More than one per cent knocks the beans down from a No. 1 grade, according to Canadian Grain Commission guidelines. Because we are growing the beans for seed purposes, we are not as concerned about getting the No. 1 grade on the appearance of the seeds, but we will be scouting to make sure we do not have excessive pest populations. The lygus bugs tend to move into fababean stands as canola fields dry down and are swathed.


Selling the beans


For commercial growers looking to market their product in Alberta, Chris Chivilo, CEO of Parkand Commodities, said he usually buys beans under 15 to 20 per cent total damage and colour sorts them to make a No. 1 or 2 grade. 


Chivilo urges growers harvesting fabas this fall to look into their marketing options before they get in the combine. His facility is already booked to 90 per cent capacity through November. 


“Nobody expects farmers to sell all their fabas before they come off the fields, but let everyone know to at least start talking about how much they’ll need to move, and when, so shippers can make plans for moving them,” he wrote in an email. 


Chivilo projects prices to be in the $7 per bushel range for feed beans and $8 per bushel for edible grade through harvest. I won’t be selling my beans until spring, but I have already had two growers speak for a significant portion of my projected production. A lot can change between now and next spring, but interest this early is encouraging.


As well as managing marketing risk, farmers need to manage their risk in the field as harvest draws near. Although fababeans are determinate, Olson said he has seen them start flowering again if they get a late August rain. Growers should have a plant to desiccate their field in the first two weeks of September or a few days before a forecasted frost.


According to the Alberta Agriculture factsheet put out by Olson and colleague Sheri Strydhorst, a fababean crop that has 90 per cent black pods is considered to be physiologically mature and ready for desiccation. Olson encouraged growers to focus on the lower pods where the majority of production comes from, rather than waiting too long for the top pods to ripen.


“The pods shouldn’t split,” says Olson, “but if you have a cycle of wet, dry, wet, dry you may see some shelling.”


Alberta Agriculture research shows that higher seeding rates can hasten maturity. Futhermore, research shows that, depending on growing conditions, increasing the seeding rate from 32 plants per square metre to 65 plants per square metre can increase yield from four to seven bushels per acre. While this year’s crop is already in the ground, it is valuable to know that the negative effects of late seeding may be partially negated by increased plant population. Olson acknowledged that increasing the seeding rates from the recommended four plants per square foot to six is not without challenges, considering the large size of most fababean varieties. 


Many growers tout the moisture tolerance of fababeans, With eight inches of rain since seeding, we are putting that theory to the test. So far the stand looks healthy. I wish it was a bit more even height-wise, but overall, if we can avoid hail and an early frost I am optimistic about the future of this crop. I look forward to updating readers post-harvest.


Editor’s note: Watch future issues of Grainews for a final update on Sarah Weigum’s fababean experience. †


Sarah Weigum grows pedigreed seed and writes in Three Hills, Alta. Follow her on Twitter: @sweigum.