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Give Peas (Another) Chance

“The recommendations are for 1.5-inch seeding depth at seven plants per square

foot, using undamaged seed that had been treated,” Kornelsen says. He ranked

each of the plots and did in fact find that this combination worked best.

Past experiences and horror stories of crops gone wrong can be enough to turn most farmers off trying something new. The problem is, those who have been burned might need some coaxing to try again. Such is the case with field pea in some areas of Alberta. A demonstration trial put on by the Lakeland Agriculture Research Association (LARA) in the northeast corner of Alberta’s growing region is trying to change that.

“Field peas are a healthy addition to the rotation and do work really well with our cool, shorter season,” says Keith Kornelsen, manager of LARA. “We’re really trying to encourage more farmers to grow field pea in the area, but some did years ago with old varieties and it didn’t turn out.” Kornelsen says that with improved varieties and solid recommendations, he and his team wanted to visually demonstrate for farmers what a successful pea crop looks like in the area.

It’s the visual aspect, Kornelsen says, that really resonates with farmers. “The demonstration sites are there to show what works best in this soil and this climate, not just trust what the book says,” he says.

Of course, what Kornelsen found was that the “book” recommendations do actually work quite nicely for this growing region.

The demonstration trial was put on in 2008 and expanded to four sites in 2009: Bonnyville,

Fort Vermillion, Camrose and in the Peace River Valley. The plots measured five by 15 metres and evaluated seeding depth, targeted plant densities, seed treatment and using damaged versus certified seed. Varieties were kept constant throughout the trial.

Kornelsen says that they seeded at 0.5-, 1.5-and 3.0-inch depths and aimed for three, seven and 12 plants per square foot. “The recommendations are for 1.5-inch seeding depth at seven plants per square foot, using undamaged seed that had been treated,” he says. Kornelsen ranked each of the plots and did in fact find that this combination worked best. “The second best combination was the same depth, but with 12 plants per square foot.”

What was somewhat surprising was that seeding depth didn’t seem to make a huge difference in 2008 (a wetter year), but that the 0.5-inch seeding depth didn’t do well in 2009’s drier conditions. “What this tells us is that year over year, the general recommendations probably are best, in that it’s impossible to predict how dry or wet a spring we’ll get,” Kornelsen says.

The feedback and interest from local growers has been positive. “Research done at LARA is directly asked for by farmers in the area, so we’re putting on demos that farmers want to see,” he says. “It saves farmers a step in evaluating a new crop or management practice.”

Demos like this one are a perfect example of what to do, but Kornelsen says they’ve also tried some things that definitely do not work and still others that have potential. “We did two years of winter pea trials,” he says. “They do not work at all. We make big mistakes so farmers don’t have to.”

On the radar for next year are Clearfield lentils — a new cropping system for the area — and a closer look at soybeans. “We did half an acre of soybeans this year and as of early September they were still podding, but depending on the fall we get, there may be potential. Some of the new varieties rely more on light than heat, so we’ll see what happens. The trial is going well enough to keep us interested in running it again next year,” he says.

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor for Grainews. She lives in Lumsden, Sask.

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