The Saskatchewan Pulse Growers Association (SPGA) predicts, in its January 2016 pulse outlook, that there will be a significant increase in pulse acres again this year, with lentils leading the charge. At least 4.46 million acres of lentils are expected to go in the ground this spring, with some market experts predicting it may go over five million acres if prices remain as strong for lentils as they have been over the past year. Pea and chickpea acres look set to top four million.
“What is driving grower’s interest in growing pulses this year is economics,” says Sherrilyn Phelps, SPGA’s Agronomy and Seed Program Manager. “Prices for lentils and peas are high which makes them very attractive right now. The fact that they don’t need a lot of fertilizer, which is an input cost, makes it even more attractive, and their nitrogen fixation capability is good for the soil, so pulses are a good rotational crop too.”
Saskatchewan has more pulse acres than the rest of Western Canada, and SPGA funds many breeding and research programs. SPGA invested $11.8 million into pulse research and market development for 2015-16. Agronomic research and extension activities are looking at issues with herbicide resistant weeds in pulse crops, diseases and the benefits of pulses in crop rotations. Other projects are looking at value-added opportunities for pulse ingredients such as starches, proteins and fibres, and to support potential health claims about human health and nutrition benefits.
There are many priorities for pulse research and varietal development. “One of the main issues right now,” says Phelps, “is that we are coming out of four or five years of wetter conditions where diseases have been a concern.” Research into disease, both agronomic management and varietal development, is ongoing. “Aphanomyces root rots are a big concern,” says Phelps, “and although 2014 was the worst year for those types of soil-borne pathogens, it’s still on people’s minds as they’re planning rotations and making crop choices.”
Other research is looking at the benefit of pulses in crop rotations and implications for soil biology and following crops.
Because pulses are a relatively small acre crop in North America compared to corn, soybeans, cereals and canola, there are fewer product options for weed control. “With limited products for use in pulses we have to do more work on integrated pest management when we’re looking at weeds,” says Phelps. “As new product development for pulses is limited there is continued work screening already existing chemistries for tolerance in various pulse crops. This will continue for the future and herbicides will be part of an integrated strategy to combat weeds.”
Pulse growers are also dealing with Group 2 resistance in some weeds, which is one of the few herbicide options available to them. “We have to look at other alternatives from the products that we have, as well as other agronomic methods, such as adjusting seeding rates or different management strategies, like controlling weed seeds after harvest,” says Phelps.
Newer pulse crops gaining ground
Developing varieties that are adapted to grow in all areas of Saskatchewan, and other prairie provinces, is also a focus, especially in some of the newer pulse crops, like fababeans. “The Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan is working to develop fababean varieties that are more suited to drier areas of the province, or shorter growing seasons,” says Phelps.
SPGA is also funding breeding and genetic improvement research at the CDC, which includes the sequencing of pea and lentil genomes, development of rapid generation technology and marker assisted breeding.
Chickpea is a pulse crop that’s seeing renewed interest from growers. “We used to have around one million acres of chickpea in Saskatchewan, but growers ran into disease issues and had a hard time growing them, so they turned away from them,” says Phelps. “But now, with more interest in pulses, there are growers that are going back to chickpea and we need to be looking at how we can incorporate those in more areas of the province as well.”
Although pulse yields this year were average, there were few issues in terms of production, adds Phelps. “Lentils and peas came off good, with good quality for the most part. Crops with delayed harvest due to fall rains were not as good quality with some germination issues being reported. Chickpea and dry bean production were also successful this year,” she says. “There’s money to be made in pulses and that’s really why growers are looking at them for this year.”