Top Crop Manager

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Diversity helps sustainability

Diverse crops and a flexible attitude help with cropping sustainability.

November 28, 2007  By Top Crop Manager

An attitude to try diverse crops and new approaches to cropping while remaining
flexible has helped seed grower Dave Hegland of Wembley, Alberta, improve his
cropping sustainability. Hegland, who farms west of Grande Prairie in the Peace
River region of Alberta, now counts seven crops as part of his rotation to help
break the disease cycle, and to take advantage of the benefits that pulses offer
to cereal crops.

Fababeans stand better than peas and result in less wildlife damage
than peas.

"We keep trying different things to see how they complement the crop rotation,"
says Hegland. "We've been playing with fababeans for a few years now, and
I think they have potential."

He first tried fababeans about six years ago, but has not been able to fit
them into his spring cropping plans consistently. With a longer maturity, several
wet, late springs meant he could not take the risk, choosing instead to go with
field peas. However, Hegland managed to seed fababeans in 2005 and 2006.

Hegland chose to include fababeans in his rotation because it looks like they
provide a good pulse benefit to subsequent crops. In fact, information from
the Pulse Agronomy Network in Alberta reports that fababean releases half a
pound of nitrogen (N) per 100 pounds per acre of yield. With a yield of 50 bushels
per acre, that is 15 pounds per acre of nitrogen that is released from fababean
residue for the next crop. That is the same as field peas and twice as much
as chickpeas.

Nick Underwood, an agronomist with Alberta Reduced Tillage Linkages at Grande
Prairie, says many growers are now including pulses in their direct seeded rotation.
The benefits not only include a reduction in fertilizer costs during the year
of pulse because of the N-fixing pulse crop, but also the N and non-N benefits
that the subsequent crop receives.

"We see good rotational benefits with pulses, but they also help with
other aspects of direct seeding, including better residue management because
you're moving from a high residue cereal to a shallow rooted, low residue pulse
crop," explains Underwood. "That helps to manage seed placement and
can help manage soil water."

Fababeans should have good demand from hog growers who like its high protein
content. The new zero-tannin fababean will help the acreage expand more, since
the tannin removal improves palatability. Plus, fababeans have a protein content
ranging from 28 to 32 percent, compared to field peas with 18 to 24 percent.
In the hog industry, fababeans could help to displace imported soybeans as a
protein supplement.

Hegland's rotation typically includes wheat, canola, peas, oats, fescue and
timothy, in addition to fababean when they can be worked into the rotation.
He tries to manage the crop to grow a cereal every other year, inter-dispersed
with canola and peas, so that canola and peas are grown every four years. His
grass crops are rotated in and out of the rotation as the stand allows.

Hegland also likes fababeans' harvestability better than peas. He has had a
lot of wildlife damage in his pea crops, with tramping and feces problems. The
fababeans, however, stand up better and do not suffer the same weathering and
trampling problems. "Fababeans have better standability, so that helps
with the later harvest because you don't have as many weathering problems,"
he says.

When establishing fescue, Hegland has also tried to underseed fescue in his
pea and fababean crops. That approach helps him establish a harvestable stand
more quickly.

Hegland's seeding system is what might be called a 'flexible direct seeding
system'. He does not zero-till, but direct seeds into undisturbed soil in the
spring when possible. However, because his current seeding system, a Flexi-coil
air-drill with single shoot Stealth openers, does not allow side-band seed placement,
he bands anhydrous ammonia in the fall of each year. Occasionally in the fall,
he may conduct a light tillage or heavy harrow to smooth out the fields. In
the spring, if the weather allows, he direct seeds without working the fields.
"What I do in the spring really depends on the weather," he explains.

Underwood jokingly refers to Hegland's system as a high disturbance minimum
tillage system. He says that Hegland's approach to direct seeding is a good
compromise between his equipment capabilities and the soil and weather conditions.
"With a different system that allows side-banding fertilizer, other growers
in the Peace region do zero-till, but that takes an extra investment in machinery,"
says Underwood. "We often see farmers move in that direction as their machinery
needs change."

One change that Hegland will be making in the near future is a different opener.
The Stealth opener does not have a large enough opening to allow fababeans to
flow freely. As a result, he is challenged to seed fababeans without plugging
up the air delivery system. Other than that, Hegland's flexibility in seeding
and diversity in cropping will allow him to continually tinker with his farming
operation. But one thing is for sure, that approach will help his farm stay
sustainable over the long-run. 


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