As many Western Canadian farmers juggle their rotations to fit a tight seeding timetable this spring, one producer has a message: Don’t drop the peas.
Vicki Dutton is a seed grower and grain trader with ADM in North Battleford. With fewer farmers signing fall contracts this year, she’s been talking to producers to find out what they’re planning to grow. Some farmers plan to strike peas from the rotation if seeding gets off to a later start, she says.
But Dutton thinks that could be a mistake.
“Obviously, like every crop you seed later, there is a certain element of risk,” she says. But the risk of seeding a 95-day pea crop in June is much lower than seeding some other crops, she adds.
“There’s very little that offers the flexibility of maturity like a pea does.”
Robyne Bowness, pulse research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, says they generally recommend farmers seed peas first because the crop tolerates cold soils and spring frosts better than crops such as canola.
“This year it’s going to be a little bit interesting because I know in some areas, we still have crop in the field,” says Bowness.
There are other reasons many farmers like to seed pulses first. Seeding peas earlier also means they’ll likely mature before hot weather in July and August, Dutton adds, although the ‘90s were much hotter and dryer than recent summers.
Another advantage to early seeding is an early harvest, Dutton says. “But even if you seed them towards the latter part of May, they’re still going to be the first thing you harvest.”
Dutton’s father started growing peas in 1969, and her and her family have been growing them since 1974. She says they usually seed wheat first on their farm. Often flax and canola are sown next, depending on the field conditions.
They often seed peas in the “teens and 20s” of May, Dutton says. While peas tolerate cool soil, they’ll pop right out of the ground when sown into warm soil, she says. When harvest starts, that puts them a week behind their neighbours, but the peas are still the first crop harvested. Dutton says she’s also seen June-seeded peas perform well.
Bowness says peas do have a wider seeding window than pulses such as faba beans, or even lentils. Seeding peas before May long weekend is feasible for many Alberta growers, she adds. Farmers in the brown or dark brown soil zones of southern Alberta in particular can get away with a later seeding date, Bowness says.
But central Alberta farmers in the black soil zone face more risk when they push seeding dates, Bowness says. “The days are a little shorter. Soils are quite a bit colder. Higher organic matter, higher moisture.”
Growers in the Peace face the most risk when delaying seeding, Bowness adds.
Of course, if farmers start seeding on May 1, they won’t be worried about crop maturity, Dutton says. But those who aren’t able to get rolling until later this month will want to “focus on the late-maturing crops first,” Dutton says. The flexibility of the pea maturity “is a tool you can use.”
“A pulse crop is a very, very flexible crop when it comes to seeding options,” says Dutton.
Bowness says pea growers looking at later seeding dates can bump seeding rates, if they decide the extra seed cost is worthwhile. “And by doing that you’ll push your maturity a little bit.”