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Three Tips For Choosing Pulse Fields

Once you’ve decided on your canola acres and booked your seed, it’s time to consider which fields are suitable for pulses. Even if you have a set rotation, you may be adding some new land, combining smaller fields into a larger one, or reacting to market prospects.

In our area, we’ve seen a gradual decline of cereal acres and an increase in pulse acres, and that’s true on our farm. We have a three-year rotation and, depending on the year, seed 25 to 35 per cent of our land to pulses, usually lentils. While growing lentils adds weed control concerns, maximizing the amount of lentils we can successfully grow seems to be a bigger discussion point every winter as we develop our crop plan.

Due to all the moisture in 2010, we’ve had to re-evaluate which fields will be seeded to lentils in 2011. When I look back to this past growing season and reflect on areas of struggle, I keep coming back to how dirty many of the pulse fields were. Which brings us to our first tip — choose your cleanest fields.

CHOOSE CLEAN FIELDS

Don’t set yourself up for failure; only seed lentils on fields that received a fall application of glyphosate. You’re choosing where to grow what could be your most profitable crop — it is absolutely critical to put pulses on fields set up for success. Populations of Canada thistle and perennial sow thistle grew well in 2010, and will continue to given ample moisture conditions. When you factor in how non-competitive pulse crops are with a limited in-crop spray option, a fall spray schedule is absolutely critical.

I would also suggest farmers seriously look at converting their lentil variety to one with the Clearfield trait. Many farmers have already moved to a Clearfield variety, especially in the red class. I believe many newer Clearfield varieties have narrowed the yield lag with conventional varieties, in both the red and large green classes. The Clearfield system allows you to grow lentils on more fields because of the option for an in-crop application. Switching to Clearfield tolerant lentils has also allowed us to tighten our crop rotation.

SOIL TEST FIRST

Soil testing is recommended for all fields and helps us make individual fertility recommendations for fields seeded to lentils. Over the past 10 years or so, fertilizer recommendations for our lentils have helped to improve productivity and even out maturity over the field.

Along with applying inoculants, we also apply a complete fertilizer package. We generally apply around 10 pounds per acre (lbs./ac) of nitrogen and we think that this has helped early in the season (prior to the nodules converting nitrogen for the plant) as well as aiding in crop maturity and evenness. We generally also apply around 20 lbs./ac of actual phosphorus and 10 to 15 lbs./ ac of potassium, as recommended by the soil tests. Some farmers view the pulse year as a year free of applying fertilizer. We spend dramatically less on fertility for our pulse acres versus cereals or oilseeds, however we feel this program provides the best base for our lentils.

CHOOSE THE BEST-DRAINED FIELDS

Lentil yields were dramatically reduced last year in any area that had flooding or standing water. While all crops were affected to some extent by excess moisture, none were as decimated as the lentils were. Heading into the spring of 2011, it looks like we will be dealing with an excess moisture situation and so will attempt to put lentils on fields with better drainage and that are less flood-prone.

ROTATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Our farm generally operates on a three-year rotation. We run this rotation both directions, for example half of the farm runs the rotation of cereal-pulse-oilseed and on the remainder oilseed-pulse-cereal. Both have advantages and trade– offs, and by looking at each individual field and its unique characteristics we seem to be able to tweak these rotations to make them work. We factor in production history and specific weed control concerns, and react to individual crop pricing opportunities on a small percentage of our land base.

I believe that there is no magic answer to where lentils should be seeded and many farmers obtain good results with very different crop rotations. On our farm, we continually keep in mind how our actions will help to set up our lentil crop for the highest chance of success. Field selection and fertility considerations, along with in-crop weed control and fungicide applications all play a part in this. We have been growing lentils for the past 20 years and they continue to be increasingly important. Production of lentils has continued a positive trend due to a combination of more intensive management along with a gradual improvement of variety genetics, disease resistance and herbicide tolerance. Pulse crops, in particular lentils, aren’t a niche crop for our farm, but rather one of its most important components.

BobbieBratrudfarmswithherhusbandMark nearWeyburn,Sask.TheyalsorunBratrud AgAdvisoryServices( www.bratrudag.ca)

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ROTATION CEREAL/PULSE/OILSEED

OILSEED/PULSE/CEREAL

Advantages

Disadvantages

Disadvantages Provides the cleanest fields for the pulse year.

We have seen good results in seeding canola on pulse stubble due to the “blackness” of the field and increased frost tolerance.

Forces us to seed canola onto fields with potential residual herbicide issues. This is not a registered practice, so we manage this decision on a year-by-year basis dependent on current environmental conditions. Deciding which in-crop herbicide on the pulse year can be an important consideration.

Advantages Works well to seed early pulses. Canola stubble warms up much earlier than cereal stubble.

Volunteer canola in the pulse year can be an issue. Can be addressed with an effective spring burn-off and in-crop application (CL lentils a necessity).

Forces us to seed canola on cereal stubble. Disadvantages are slower emergence due to increased trash cover and increased potential damage to the canola seedling from a spring frost.

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An UnintentionalFlax/Lentil Intercrop?

Seeding a pulse crop on flax stubble is not a common rotation. But farmers look at this rotation if they are trying to combine fields and straighten out a rotation, or if there has been a last-minute seeding change or delay. Last year, many lentils were seeded later because of wet field conditions. Most of the time when lentils are seeded later and a good burn-off is applied to control the volunteer flax, it works out quite well.

Last year was not typical, however, and seeding a pulse crop on flax stubble did not turn out as well. A lot of the flax in 2009 was combined in November which caused increased combine losses as well as a lot of boll drop, which led to higher-than-normal volunteer flax populations. This, along with the moisture conditions, caused multiple flushes and reduced suppression from an in-crop herbicide (which is a lower level of suppression under normal environmental conditions). Some facing this situation were forced to look at their lentil crop as an unintentional intercrop with the volunteer flax. Some farmers who did this were pleasantly surprised with amount of flax they retained.

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