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Three things to know about fababeans

Fababeans are making a comeback in Alberta. Here's what you need to think about before you grow them

Clubroot is driving a renewed interest in fababeans among Alberta farmers, says Harvey Brink, a farmer in the Bentley, Alberta, area. Farmers need another crop to add to the rotation, he says, “because having a short rotation with canola, that just doesn’t work because of the clubroot.”

Carol Holt, a business agronomist with Parkland Fertilizer in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, agrees clubroot is part of the reason for the growing interest in fababeans.

Farmers are “looking for something that stands, fixes nitrogen, and fits in their rotation,” Holt says.

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Brink says farmers have better markets now than the last time they seeded fababeans.

“Back in the ’80s, nobody knew anything about them and how to deal with them,” he says. “But now that we need another alternative crop because of clubroot, we’ve got to find other markets and other alternatives.”

Farmers also have better fababean varieties today, says Holt. “We’ve also got some better herbicides and weed control. And we’re learning how to deal with them.”

Get them in the bin early

When it comes to growing fababeans, Brink says “my biggest fear is frost in August. They don’t even handle frost at all in the end of August, beginning of September. And so we want to have them mature before then if we can.”

Frost vulnerability means fababeans aren’t a good choice for every part of the Prairies. Holt says farmers need frost-free days until mid-September if they’re planning to sell into the edible markets.

“You could probably grow them in the Peace, but your risks of getting them off without a frost increase dramatically. So I think it depends year by year,” says Holt.

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This fall, farmers between Leduc and the No. 2 Corridor in central Alberta were slammed by frost before many of the fababeans were desiccated, says Holt. “And when you do get a frost, you get fababeans that basically turn black.”

Holt says Alberta farmers knew the frost was coming and many did desiccate their fababeans beforehand. But immature beans were still hurt, she says.

Brink’s fababeans were hit by frost and snow this fall, too. But he opted for a zero-tannin variety known as Snowbirds. High-tannin varieties can be sold for human consumption, but not livestock, Brink explains. Snowbirds can go into either market.

“And that’s what you need because this year we basically had a wreck on beans because of the frost and snow,” he says. Brink plans to use his fababeans in his feedlot.

Both Holt and Brink say fababeans should be seeded as early as possible, and definitely before May 15.

North-facing slopes should be avoided, Holt says, because they get less light and heat.

Seeding depth plays into how the crop matures, too. Brink seeds fababeans an 1-1/2 or two inches deep. Any shallower and the large seeds might not get enough moisture during the three weeks the seedlings are emerging from the soil, leading to two different crop stages in the same field, he explains.

Lygus bugs also threaten fababean growers’ bottom lines. The pests leave black spots on the seed during feeding, Holt explained in an earlier interview.

Eight per cent total damaged seed is the standard tolerance level for seeds destined for the Egyptian market, Chris Chivilo wrote in an email. Chivilo is president and CEO of W.A. Grain & Pulse Solutions.

But fababeans are only vulnerable to lygus bug damage while the pods are soft, Holt said.

“Once they turn into leather, the fababeans are really no longer prone to lygus damage,” said Holt this summer. “So getting them in early, getting that bean to be produced and hardened prior to the lygus bug really doing the damage, would be the best practice.”

Farmers thinking about using fungicide on fababeans should keep in mind any yield bumps aren’t significant enough to pay back the application, Holt says. In fact, Holt discourages growers from applying fungicides because the crop may stay green longer.

Think like a pea grower

Brink recommends treating fababeans as peas. The less residual nitrogen the better, he adds.

Avoid manured fields, Holt says. Too much residual nitrogen means the fababeans will get too lazy to fix nitrogen, she says. And the plants may also stay in the vegetative state and not pod, she adds.

“They become a really expensive silage crop,” she adds.

Brink also suggests picking a clean field, and notes the chemistry is the same as peas.

“We highly recommend getting some Edge on so you’ve got some broadleaf control that isn’t Group 2 for your weed control,” says Holt. Edge is a Group 3 herbicide, also known by the common name ethalfluralin.

Both Holt and Brink have been pleased with the inoculant Cell-Tech. Cell-Tech isn’t registered specifically for fababeans, but Brinks says the chemistry is the same for peas. Holt recommends having inoculant and seed lined up by the end of January.

In an email, Holt wrote that although fusarium is a problem for peas in her area, she hasn’t seen any root rot in fababeans yet. But as fababean acres grow, Holt thinks species-specific diseases will show up.

Australian researchers reported root rot caused by aphanomyces in the journal Australian Plant Disease Notes. Some varieties seemed to have resistance, the researchers noted, while others were susceptible.

The Alberta Pulse Growers website recommends high quality seed and seed treatment to manage seedling blight and root rot in fababeans.

“Every year is a learning year”

Brink has been growing fababeans for four years now. He says “every year is a learning year” with the crop. Asked where he goes for information, Brink says, “I just kind of hear bits and pieces and try to put things together.”

And Brink’s drive to put things together has led to an interesting observation about his CPS wheat. When he grows the wheat on fababean stubble, he’s noticed higher protein levels.

Brink seeds canola after the wheat because it takes a couple years for the fababean stubble to break down, he says. He hopes working fababeans in his rotation will bump canola yields, and says so far canola yields are “pretty good.”

Farmers shouldn’t look at fababeans as a one-year thing, Brink says. “You’ve got to plan your rotations afterwards and I think you can have a benefit.”

Brink is willing to answer questions about growing fababeans at 403-748-2777.

Choose a variety

If you’re looking for more information about choosing the best fababean variety for your area, take a look at the pdf version of a presentation given by Bert Vandenberg last winter on the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers website.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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