Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (AARD) has AARD has a unique business model — they work with breeders from both private and government organizations in Canada and overseas. Now, they’re evaluating fababean varieties to see which ones have the best fit under Alberta’s conditions.
Mark Olson, unit head, pulse crops, has been working closely with collaborators, like professor Bert Vandenberg of the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre. “While Bert is a partner in our screening of germplasm research, our project is unique in that we are working with multiple breeders,” says Olson.
Breeders are primarily looking for high yield and early maturity. “Large seed size, as well as the tannin types, are generally preferred, especially for the human consumption market, although, low tannin have been making their way into this market as well,” says Olson.
Since 2004, annual insured acreage of fababean in Alberta has increased from 2,757 acres to an estimated 20,669 acres. Why are fababeans making a return now? “Fababean is the highest nitrogen fixing annual grain legume globally, fixing upwards of 90 per cent of its own nitrogen fertilizer requirements,” explains Olson. “This lowers the carbon footprint not only in the year in which producers grow the fababean crop, but also of the entire cropping system.”
Older varieties are less desirable, since they mature too late, making them suitable only for biomass or silage. The seed would also suffer frost damage, which is also undesirable. On top of that, Olson says that markets two to three years ago were unsuitable. That’s all changed now, though.
“The markets for tannin types are Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates,” says Olson. “As well, a large amount of low tannin fababean is going into the domestic feed markets for hogs as a replacement for both soybean and field pea.”
New varieties are bred using traditional or classical breeding techniques, which starts with crossing two parents with desirable traits and selecting progeny that displays trade traits uniformly over a number of generations.
“Like all true pulse crops in Canada, excluding soybean, which is considered an oilseed, fababean is non-GMO,” says Olson.
Once developed, the new varieties need to be tested under field conditions. Before that, though, there’s a lengthy process of selecting varieties with the desired attributes. It could be as long as 10 to 12 years before farmers have the varieties for use, says Olson.
After being suspended for five years due to a lack of markets and a lack of new varieties being registered, Regional Variety Trials (RVTs) were conducted for fababean in Alberta in 2013 and 2014. These are post-registration, commercialization trials, says Olson. RVTs look at the adaptability of the varieties in different areas of the province. Yield, maturity, seed size and the presence or absence of tannin in the seed coat are the characteristics listed in the RVT results.
So far, only a few varieties have been tested, including Snowdrop and Tabasco.
Snowdrop (FB 34-2), a white flowered, zero tannin fababean, was developed by Vandenberg. In 2013, yield in co-ops was 10 per cent lower than the check Snowbird (three year summary 2009 to 2011) and 15 per cent lower in the 2013 Regional Variety Trials (one year data).
“Farmers may grow any one of those varieties dependent on end use or market, so suggesting one over another showing more or less promise isn’t something one can do,” says Olson. “You have to let the buyers decide.”
At present, Snowbird makes up close to 80 per cent of the market. While there are new varieties in the pipeline, Olson says they’re not ready yet. The seed multiplication process, he says, does take some time.