The summer of 2009 may not provide the best showcase for the potential of winter pulse crops, but Alberta Agriculture specialist Mark Olson thinks these fall-seeded varieties — especially winter peas — have potential in Western Canadian crop rotations.
All winter pulse trials with peas, lentils and faba beans appeared to survive the winter of 2008-09 quite well in four plot locations that stretched from Lethbridge to Edmonton, says Olson, provincial pulse industry development specialist. But it was the cold dry spring that took a toll, particularly on plots at Edmonton and Lacombe. Southern plots are in better shape. Winter peas at the Lethbridge plot location were “looking very good” as of early July, says Olson.
He and a number of collaborators launched a three-year study into the potential of winter pulse crops last fall. Some preliminary investigations carried out by the Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) based in Lethbridge over the past two or three years showed winter peas had potential to yield up to 80-plus bushels per acre compared to spring varieties yielding about 30 bushels per acre.
“According to Environment Canada, we had one of the coldest winters on record and then one of the driest springs,” says Olson. “So it is hard to know whether this is an anomaly or part of a new weather pattern. It is hard to say what normal is, but under what we might expect as average growing conditions, I feel there is real potential for winter peas in Western Canada.”
The Alberta researchers are working with University of North Dakota pulse crop breeder Kevin McPhee to evaluate new varieties under Western Canadian conditions. McPhee, who was previously with the U. S. Department of Agriculture in Pullman, Washington, has been working to development improved winter pulse crop varieties for some time.
The Alberta project certainly hasn’t ruled out the potential of winter lentils and winter faba beans, but early indications suggest two yellow winter pea varieties — Specter and Windham — have the most potential to do well under southern Alberta growing conditions.
In the Alberta project, all winter pulse varieties were seeded on three different early fall dates and at three different seeding rates. In Lethbridge and Brooks the plots were seeded September 1, September 11 and September 22 and in Lacombe and Edmonton they were seeded August 20, September 1 and September 10. Winter peas were seeded at a recommended seven to eight plants per square foot, winter lentils were seeded at the recommended 10 to 11 plants per square foot, and winter faba beans at four to five plants per square foot. For comparison, other plots were seeded at 1.5 times and two times the recommended rate for all crops.
All crops in all locations appeared to survive the winter, although plots seeded later at all sites appeared to have the best survival rates. Regardless of winter survival, the faba beans fizzled out early this spring in all locations, due to cold and dry conditions. All plots were lost at Edmonton, the lentils didn’t survive at Lacombe and Brooks, but the peas have done well at Lethbridge.
“These yel low pea var ieties appear to have very good potential,” says Olson. “And the plant breeder says he has other new lines coming along with improved winter hardiness, so there will be more varieties down the road.”
While the yellow peas are generally considered as feed peas, some plots in the past couple years have produced good quality peas suitable for human food markets.
Over the three-year project, the plan is to evaluate the potential of all three winter pulse crops, look into the nitrogen fixing capability of the winter pulses compared to spring-seeded varieties, and evaluate the quality aspects and market fit for winter pulses compared to spring-seeded varieties.
As with other winter crops, he says the advantage of winter peas is to make use of early spring moisture, and ultimately produce higher yields. From looking at plots in Lethbridge this year, the spring-seeded peas were at the seven and eight node stage during a recent field day, while the winter peas were already in bloom.
“The winter peas are likely two to three weeks earlier than spring-seeded peas, which means they would flower before the high heat stress period of early summer,” says Olson. “And they should be ready to harvest in August, which often means better harvest conditions and likely higher quality seed.”
Olson says more work is needed to determine how winter peas (or pulses) fit in rotation, but he sees potential for a winter pea crop to be followed by winter wheat.
Collaborating with Olson on the agronomy side of winter pulse research is Boris Henriquez in Edmonton, Ross McKenzie and Rob Dunn with Alberta Agriculture in Lethbridge, Manjula Bandara and Art Krueger with Alberta Agriculture in Brooks, and D. J. Bing and Don Beauchesne with Agriculture Canada in Lacombe. Thava Vasanthan with the University of Alberta in Edmonton is looking at the quality characteristics of winter pulse crops.
Funding for the three-year project is provided by Alberta Agriculture and Food Council, the Alberta Pulse Growers and the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund.
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]