Winter pulse research in Alberta

The advantages of growing spring types of pulses in cropping systems on the prairies are well known. Pulses include field pea, lentil, chickpea, dry bean, faba bean and lupin. These crops are unique in that they biologically fix atmospheric nitrogen N2 through a mutually beneficial relationship with rhizobium bacteria on the root hairs. The inclusion of these grain legumes in the crop rotation reduces requirements for inorganic nitrogen fertilizer inputs and decreases the overall carbon footprint of the farm.
“Spring grain legumes sometime suffer due to both water stress and heat, especially during flowering,” says Mark Olson, provincial pulse industry development specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Stony Plain. “Excessively high temperatures, those over 28C, result in poor pod set due to flower and seed abortion.”

Winter pulse crops are sown in the fall and over-winter as a compact rosette-like plant (six-to-eight nodes). Capturing precious moisture throughout the late fall, winter and spring, winter pulse crops are able to move into the reproductive or flowering stage earlier than the conventional spring types, thus, avoiding heat and water stress in mid-summer and the resultant loss in yield.

“Winter pulses can mature two-to-three weeks earlier than the conventional spring types,” says Olson. “An earlier harvest allows additional time to recharge soil moisture for the following crop which is especially important in southern Alberta. Also, this early harvest allows businesses to penetrate and move product into global markets two-to-three weeks earlier than spring seeded types.”

A research project led by Olson has been designed to figure out whether or not winter pulses can be grown successfully in Alberta. The researchers will assess whether existing germplasm for winter pulse crops, namely field pea, lentil, zero tannin faba bean, is adapted to the harsh and variable climatic conditions of Alberta. Additionally, the composition of whole seed and fractions of this winter genetic material will be analyzed to determine if the winter types meet the quality parameters of the food and feed industries.

The research locations for the study are Lethbridge, Brooks, Lacombe and Edmonton. The project starts in the fall of 2008 and will run through until the fall of 2011. A final report will be completed by March 2012.

Many individuals are involved in this work and are represented by the following organizations; Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, University of Alberta , University of Saskatchewan, USDA, Washington State University, North Dakota State University and Southern Applied Research Association.

Financial contributors to this project include; Ag and Food Council, Alberta Pulse Growers, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (Crop Products Theme), Agri Obtentions, INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural), Novozymes and EMD CropBioscience.

“The interest by around winter pulses is high,” says Olson. “However, caution is advised for those growers thinking about getting seed immediately. We really don’t know the circumstances in which winter pulses survive or are winterkilled. Farmers should be patient and let researchers take the risk. The scientists wants to examine the numerous factors, such air and soil temperature, growth stage going into winter, disease, etc, and have the chance to figure the ‘why and how’ winter pulse crops can be grown successfully in our environment.”

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