With a host of agronomic benefits that easily convert into economic benefits, it’s no surprise that pulses are an increasingly common choice for crop rotation. However, pulses come with their own mix of challenges, including potential insect and disease concerns, and the need for good stand establishment. Here are five tips to keep in mind when planning for pulses.
1. DECIDE IF A PULSE CROP WORKS FOR YOUR FARM
There are many good reasons to include pulses in your crop rotation. The benefit that gets the most attention is the ability of pulses to fix nitrogen in association with rhizobia. This nitrogen boost can reduce the need for fertilizer the following year, helping growers save money. Research also indicates yield increases in cereal crops such as barley and wheat when they are planted in fields a year after pulses. From an agronomic stewardship perspective, a pulse crop rotation every four years can improve soil structure and reduce soil-borne and residue-borne diseases that can survive in the soil for years. Maintaining proper crop rotations may be difficult some years, but sticking with these rotations will help keep diseases in check.
When selecting a variety, keep in mind that Lentils, peas, chickpeas and dry beans all have their own level of tolerance when it comes to preferred temperature, frost tolerance and drought response. For example, grey soil zones are excellent for peas but not suitable for lentils and chickpeas. Before making a decision about what to grow, consult your agronomist to determine which pulses will work best in your region.
2. START WITH QUALITY SEED, AND HANDLE WITH CARE
Pulse seeds are fragile and their coats split easily, severely damaging or destroying the seeds. Handle pulse seed carefully prior to and during planting in the spring. Buying certified seed is a great way to guarantee seed quality. Have seed tested by an accredited lab for germination, vigour and seed-borne diseases.
3. GIVE YOUR SEEDS THE APPROPRIATE TREATMENT(S)
Nitrogen fixation is a significant benefit of growing pulses, and an inoculant can help you get the most from this benefit. Literature indicates that a well-inoculated seed can fix 60 to 80 per cent of its nitrogen needs. Inoculant application is easy, but application methods will vary from product to product. Information is readily available online on application equipment, planting window for inoculants, and seed treatment compatibility.
Seed treatment is another option in your pulse seed care tool-kit, which helps prevent soil-borne diseases that cause damping-off, seedling blights, seed rot and root rots. Using a seed treatment can improve germination, emergence and stand establishment. Ensure that you select a seed treatment that provides broad spectrum control and prevents diseases most commonly found in your area. If you cannot treat seed on your farm, contact a local commercial treater who can apply seed treatment accurately and achieve the required coverage, helping you maximize your investment.
4. EMPLOY BEST PRACTICES FOR SEEDING AND PRODUCTION
Good stand establishment is imperative for pulse crops, so your standard best practices of seeding are all important. Pea, lentil and desi chickpea crops can be seeded into cool soils (5C), while dry bean and kabuli chickpea crops require warmer soil (at least 10C) for good germination and emergence. To ensure accuracy, measure the soil’s temperature as well as moisture before planting. While planting, check your depth regularly, space seeds evenly, and avoid over-planting.
5. MANAGE THOSE PESTS
Crop monitoring for early symptoms of disease, weeds and insects is your best defense against pests. Paying close attention to the signals can help you prevent widespread damage and significant yield impact.
To prepare for insect concerns in your area, start by researching which pests have been known to affect the crops you’ll be growing. Scout for insect pests early and become familiar with insect lifecycles and recommended management strategies to help you to determine an action plan for 2010.
Specifically related to peas, the pea leaf weevil has had much attention in recent seasons. Wintering adults can start feeding as soon as the crop emerges. Although the insect is very small, feeding damage is easily recognized, making early scouting all the more important.
To reap the benefits of pulse crops, it’s best to recognize the potential challenges as well as benefits in advance so you can map out a plan to make the crop work best for your farm. The techniques you choose to incorporate should work in conjunction with your comprehensive approach to crop management and align with your commitment to smart, sustainable practices. As with all crop rotations, planning ahead is a good strategy. If you decide not to do a pulse crop rotation in 2010, you can use the upcoming year to plan ahead for 2011. If you do choose to grow pulses, do everything you can to give them a strong foundation and you will experience both economic and agronomic rewards.
Ted Labun is the Seed Care technical lead with Syngenta Canada.