Seed & Chemical
From the Field Editor: February 2012
By Bruce Barker
In this issue of Top Crop Manager magazine we present a special focus on pulses, and highlight many advancements in pulse research and development.
In this issue of Top Crop Manager magazine we present a special focus on pulses, and highlight many advancements in pulse research and development. While widespread now, during the 1960s and 1970s pulse crops were virtually unknown as a crop or a food group. Wheat, barley and canola were staples of the crop rotation, but the pioneering work by plant breeders such as Al Slinkard at the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan eventually brought peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans to the field and the table. And as you’ll see in this issue’s article on new pulse crops, CDC plant breeders Bert Vandenberg, Tom Warkentin and Bunyamin Tar’an continue to develop new, better-performing varieties of lentil, pea and chickpea.
These pulses – the name derived from a derivative of the Latin word puls, meaning thick soup or potage – now play an important role in providing consistent economic returns to Prairie farmers and bring important sustainability and health benefits to farmers and consumers alike.
The growth in pulses has been phenomenal, driven by researchers, plant breeders, agronomists, and risk-taking farmers. Canada’s pulse crop production grew 500 percent from the early 1990s to 2005 with record yields and acreages. In 2006, the Canadian pulse industry was valued at more than $1 billion, and has continued to grow. Canada is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of yellow and green peas. Field pea acreage has increased from 330,000 acres in 1990 to almost 3.5 million acres in 2009. In 2005, Canada became the world’s largest producer of lentils and is also the world’s largest exporter of lentils. Lentil acres grew from 500,000 acres in 1990 to 2.7 million acres in 2009. Chickpea production has been on a roller-coaster ride on the Prairies, with production peaking in the early 2000s, and fluctuating since.
This increased production and subsequent development of export (and domestic) markets have meant increased opportunities and flexibility in marketing. Farmers have contributed to these developing markets through their provincial and federal pulse grower organizations. These organizations continue to play an important role in helping to keep the playing field level markets open.
The trade issue of prohibited use of glyphosate preharvest in lentils destined for Europe, reported in Top Crop Manager in June 2011, continues to highlight the importance of your contribution to grower pulse organizations, and the value of your contributions through these organizations to pulse breeding programs such as the one at the CDC at Saskatoon.
None of these benefits, though, would accrue to farmers if pulses didn’t have a positive effect on the bottom line. Although pulses production is in relative infancy compared to cereal grain production on the Prairies, research has shown that pulses in rotation have a positive effect on sustainability. Pulse crops grown in rotation generally result in higher yield and grain protein of the subsequent cereal crop. This increase is partially attributed to rotational effects such as reduced disease and weed incidence, and improved soil structure.
Pulses also help manage nitrogen fertilizer inputs. With proper inoculation, fababeans fix 88 percent of their nitrogen requirements, lentils, 60 percent, desi chickpeas and dry peas, 55 percent, and dry beans and kabuli chickpeas, 35 to 45 percent.
The achievement of good nodulation and nitrogen fixation is why Top Crop Manager is pleased to run the Seed Treatment and Inoculant Guide in this issue. Companies continue to develop better strains of Rhizobia and other performance-boosting inoculants. The guide pulls them all together into a useful reference format so you can decide on the best product for your farm.
From split pea soup through lentil dal, Moroccan chickpea stew, and pork and beans, consumers can thank researchers and farmers for transforming Prairie agriculture into one “thick soup.” Enjoy.