Top Crop Manager

Features Agronomy Irrigation
Fababeans under irrigation


November 30, 1999
By Donna Fleury

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For a select seed grower near Enchant, Alberta, fababeans are an important crop. Stamp’s Select Seeds and its partners grow a variety of crops on 1600 acres under irrigation. “Fababeans are a competitive crop on our farm and we really like to include them in our system,” says Greg Stamp, production manager. “As select seed growers, fababeans fit very well into our rotation, particularly when we are switching from different varieties of cereals or require two years without a cereal so we can go back to a higher generation cereal crop.”

The Stamps grow Snowbird, a zero-tannin variety preferred by the hog industry. It is also the highest yielding zero-tannin variety, providing both growers and hog producers with many benefits. Growers benefit from higher yields and the best nitrogen (N) fixing crop of all pulse legumes. “Fababeans can fix 70 lbs actual N following year one and in year two, they release 10 lbs of N or more,” says Stamp. “To realize all the benefits, follow a fababean crop with something like a durum or wheat crop where you will get paid for the increased protein levels on subsequent crops.”

Yields range from 75 to 100 bu/ac, and the Stamp’s average 95 bu/ac under irrigation. Stamp also grew fababeans under dryland conditions on the corners of the irrigated fields. The dryland yields were about 40 bu/ac, which is comparable to peas in this area on dryland. Fababeans are grown under irrigation and in several dryland areas with sufficient rainfall such as Red Deer, Barrhead, the Peace region and other areas.

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“In talking to the people we retail to and their customers in the hog industry, the producers using fababeans prefer them because the hogs like them better, the protein is higher and they get more bang for their buck,” says Stamp. “If you are growing fababeans, you may be able to sell them before peas into the hog feeding industry and you may also be able to get a better price because of the higher protein.” Although levels vary, zero-tannin fababeans have a higher crude protein level than peas averaging 28 percent crude protein compared to 23 percent in field peas.

Last year, the Stamps grew 260 acres of fababeans under irrigation. “We use a no-till system, and have seeded fababeans with an older style hoe drill and with our air seeder, both with good results,” says Stamp. “The one challenge can be with certain types of boots and the ability to put the larger-sized seed through. The larger seed size can also translate into higher seed costs; however you don’t need to use any N, which balances off the costs including an inoculant.”

Stamp recommends a target of seven or eight plants per square foot. Fababeans, like peas, have good frost tolerance and can be seeded early. Weed control for fababeans is fairly simple and so far Stamp has not had any disease problems with any of the irrigated crops. Registered herbicides include Edge, Solo, Basagran, Assure 2 and Poast. “Fababeans are very easy to harvest, and can be straight-cut or swathed first before combining,” explains Stamp. “The lowest pods are about six inches off the ground and the plants are upright, so there aren’t any problems with rocks or other issues as there can be when harvesting peas.

Fababeans don’t shell out and are not affected by the wind, which is good for us as we are in a windy area.”
Fababeans also offer some flexibility at harvest. Stamp usually harvests other crops first and when it is convenient, moves to the fababeans. “They are photosensitive and as it gets later in the growing season the plants start to dry down themselves,” explains Stamp. “The whole plant shrinks down, but the lower pods remain off the ground and the crop is very manageable and easy to harvest. Here in the south, we usually let the crops dry down themselves; however, in the central and more northern areas growers tend to use desiccants.”

Stamp really likes fababeans as a crop and plans to continue including them in rotation. Along with the rotation benefits, the high yields and benefits from nitrogen fixation help reduce input costs and increase the bottom line. Fababeans are a good legume option for both irrigation and dryland cropping systems and a good feed option for hog producers.

Fababeans for feed
Zero-tannin fababeans are a good feed option for pig diets and can be an alternative to field pea or imported soybean meal. The newer zero-tannin varieties, like Snowbird, have less than one percent tannins, making them much more suitable for pig diets than the older fababean varieties. Zero-tannin fababeans average 28 percent crude protein compared to 25 percent in field pea.

Research conducted by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development compared various pig diets including soybean, fababean or field pea in a commercial hog grow out study. The research showed that the zero-tannin fababean variety Snowbird can replace field pea or imported soybean meal as a dietary supplemental protein source. Snowbird as the sole source of supplemental protein in hog diets had no detrimental effects on hog performance or carcass characteristics. Growers and producers can expect higher yields and other benefits for both fababean crops and hog production by including fababeans in their operations.