Faba beans generally yield more than peas and they fix more nitrogen for the following crop. And new zero-tannin faba beans are a quality locally-grown feed source

Faba bean contacts

For more information on zero-tannin faba beans or for seed sources, contact:

—Rod Fisher at Fisher Seeds in Dauphin, Man., 204 622-8800 —Cliff Cyre at Cyre Seed Farms Ltd., Barrhead, Alta., 780-34-4775

Zero-tannin faba beans are new to the legume family in Western Canada, and they could develop into a strong, alternative crop for farmers in cooler, wetter regions of the northern and central Prairies.

Rod Fisher, a grower and seed retailer from Dauphin, Man., has been growing faba beans for the past 35 years. “The reason we grow them is economics,” he says. “They do well, and they add nitrogen to the soil and break up the cycle, and they will stand excess rain better than peas.”

Regular faba beans, which have largely been grown for export, particularly into the Middle Eastern market, have naturally-occurring tannins that make them distasteful to livestock.

Breeders, initially attracted by the high yield potential and nitrogen-fixing qualities of faba beans, began breeding out the tannins so that that the beans could be incorporated into animal feed, particularly for the hog and broiler chicken sectors. They have achieved their goals to create a crop that has the agronomic and quality traits to rival peas.

Faba beans generally give a yield advantage of eight to 16 bushels per acre over field peas and will fix nitrogen in the soil throughout their entire life cycle, whereas field peas fix nitrogen only up until the flowering stage.

Thanks to almost ideal growing conditions, some plots of zero-tannin faba beans grown in the Roblin area of Manitoba have yielded 6,000 to 7,000 pounds per acre this summer, according to Manitoba Agriculture diversification technician Jeff Kostuik. That’s well above the average of 3,000 pounds per acre.

Development of zero-tannin faba bean varieties has maintained all these agronomic advantages while offering increased opportunities for new, and expanded markets.

Eduardo Beltranena is a pork research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. He has been involved in research over the past three years that has helped to identify uses for zero-tannin faba beans in a number of industrial, animal feed and human food applications.

Beltranena’s studies have shown that up to 40 per cent of the content of hog feed for both grower-finisher or weanling pigs can be substituted with faba bean protein meal with no effects on weight gain or health. He was also surprised to find that weanling pigs were able to switch straight from liquid milk to faba bean dry feed without any need for an adaptation period.

With a much higher protein content than field peas, faba beans are valuable as a functional ingredient in foods such as breakfast or snack bars that require high-protein content.

At the other end of the equation, faba bean-derived starch has a very low protein level and low glycemic index, making it a good choice for diabetics. The starch also has applications in the pulp and paper and paint industries.

Snowbird variety

Cliff Cyre of Cyre Seed Farms Ltd., in Alberta holds the Western Canadian rights to a variety of zero-tannin faba beans known as Snowbird. Most faba beans are grown in the Parkland area of Alberta, with some in northern Manitoba and northern Saskatchewan, says Cyre. “They work better with higher moisture levels, especially when flowering. They won’t work in the dry land areas.”

Although seeded acres is not easy to determine, as a lot of zero-tannin faba beans appear to be grown for on-farm feed purposes at the moment, Cyre says interest is definitely increasing as new markets continue to develop. “We are multiplying seed up and we will have a good line of production this year for the commercial grower,” says Cyre.

Snowbird is the only zerotannin variety currently registered in Western Canada, but an ongoing provincial faba bean trial in Manitoba looks likely to yield a few new varieties in two or three years. The trials, which involve three test plots at Arborg, Roblin and St. Adolphe, are looking at 11 other varieties of zero-tannin faba beans, some of which Bert Vandenberg has bred from the original European varieties. Vandenberg is a pulse crop breeder at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre.

Large seeds take careful management

Zero-tannin faba beans are a large-seed variety, and farmers have to make sure their seeding equipment has large enough openings so the seeds don’t clog up the lines. Cyre uses a four to five inch paired row opener, and recommends sowing at a depth of two to 2.5 inches.

Developing smaller seeded varieties is another focus of the breeding research, says Manitoba Agriculture’s pulse crop specialist, Bruce Brolley. At least one of the new varieties under evaluation has a seed size equivalent to a large pea, which will make it easier for producers to use conventional seed openers and also make it more economic to sow.

Faba beans need to be sown early, by May 10, to take advantage of moisture in the soil that will be needed for germination and to avoid disease problems, which usually don’t show up until later in the season.

One restricting factor for farmers is the lack of effective herbicides, although herbicides and seed treatments are being evaluated in the Manitoba faba bean trials. “Our goal is to do the same agronomic trials across all three provinces and next year get Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba together to work out common protocols,” says Brolley. The number of zerotannin varieties being evaluated (12 as opposed to six regular faba beans types) indicates a lot of interest in the crop, he says.

Cyre also sees some curiosity amongst farmers. “Interest is growing but (farmers) want to know where faba beans can be marketed besides the feed market,” says Cyre. “There are human consumption and also industrial uses being developed. It’s growing every year.”

Angela Lovell writes from Manitou, Man.

About the author

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Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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