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Lupin: overcoming the hurdles

Researchers hope to overcome barriers to successful commercialization of a new pulse crop.

November 27, 2007  By Carolyn King

Lupin has some tantalizing qualities: protein levels similar to those in soybean,
the ability to fix more nitrogen than field pea and a sturdy stem that resists
lodging. The challenge for a team of researchers is to find out if and how lupin
can be grown, and what the commercial applications are.

Lupin may be a good alternative to peas in moist conditions.

Most of the world's lupin production is in Australia. Currently, lupins are
not commercially produced in Canada. In the past, Alberta producers have tried
growing white lupin, but the very late maturity of that species made it unsuitable.
Then in 2002, Alberta researchers obtained narrow-leafed lupin varieties from
a plant breeder at the International Lupin Centre in Denmark. These varieties
have about the same maturity as wheat.


"It's probably later than most pea crops and earlier than most fababean
crops. So there's a niche there, according to what we see in our field research,"
says Ken Lopetinsky, pulse research agronomist with Alberta Agriculture, Food
and Rural Development at Edmonton.

Narrow-leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolius), also called blue lupin, grows
about three feet tall. The pods are about two inches long and contain four to
six egg-shaped seeds.

One of the advantages of narrow-leafed lupin is its very high protein content.
Narrow-leafed lupin has values approaching 40 percent crude protein, whereas
field pea is 21 to 23 percent, and white-flowered fababean is around 28 to 31
percent crude protein in the seed. With that high concentration of protein,
there may be a market for this narrow-leafed lupin in the fish feed market.
An ingredient in rations for swine and poultry and in human food are other potential
uses for lupin.

"Lupin is not drought tolerant," notes Lopetinsky. "The yields
totally collapse under dry conditions, very similar to what happens with fababean.
So these two crops are destined for the higher moisture and cooler conditions
of the Parkland and Peace regions."

In fact, Lopetinsky hopes lupin and fababean might be good alternatives to
field pea in areas where moist conditions make field pea prone to serious disease
impacts from the ascochyta blight complex. He says that both fababeans and lupin
stand very, very well. They do not lodge like a pea crop, so they can handle
the higher moisture and, potentially, reward the producer with higher yields
in moist years.

Another advantage of lupin is its excellent potential for nitrogen fixation.
In crop studies from around the world, fababean generally comes first, followed
by lupin and then field pea in terms of the ability to fix nitrogen.

"I and other professionals have been saying for the last 25 years that
we have to incorporate more pulse crops into crop rotations. Some day we won't
be able to afford to use commercial nitrogen fertilizer because of high energy
costs (for manufacturing fertilizer). Growing pulse crops is a way of having
the crop make nitrogen fertilizer for you," says Lopetinsky.

A taste of the Orient for Alberta pulse

Lovers of Chinese food might one day be eating bean sprouts from Alberta-grown
mung beans. In the fall of 2005, Alberta Agriculture's Mark Olson went
to China to look at mung bean production and to obtain mung bean lines
for field trials in Alberta.

Olson says, "We know there is a mung bean market. It looks quite
lucrative and quite large, and it looks stable. But we don't know if we
can grow mung beans in Alberta. We now have about 200 lines from around
the world that we are going to put out in plots in the bean growing areas
of Alberta (in 2006) to see if we can grow this crop."

Looking at the agronomics and economics
Work on narrow-leafed lupin in Alberta began in 2002 and 2003 with some initial
screening and testing. Then in 2004, a multi-agency team of researchers started
a comprehensive set of projects to look at everything possibly in order to eliminate
potential barriers to production.

The projects cover agronomic, economic and processing considerations. They
include such aspects as: determining crop tolerance to various pre-emergence
and post-emergence herbicides, assessing responses to weed competition, determining
options for integrated weed management, evaluating inoculants, comparing the
effects of seed size and seeding rates and dates, determining the crop's phosphorus,
potassium and sulphur needs, identifying seed and seedling diseases, assessing
disease control options, and evaluating the effects of soil pH.

The researchers are also measuring how much nitrogen is in the seed, the nutrient
value of the straw, and the nitrogen and non-nitrogen benefits of lupin to subsequent
crops. And a processing engineer with Alberta Agriculture has been conducting
work on dehulling lupin and white-flowered fababean. The team is hopeful that
funds for fractionation equipment may be found to carry out further studies
on the different components of the seed.

The field plots are located in Alberta's Parkland and Peace regions, with six
major sites and about 10 other sites with smaller studies. Most of the projects
will be completed in either 2006 or 2007.

One of the keys to commercialization will be obtaining minor use registration
from the federal government for use of various herbicides, fungicides and inoculants
on lupin. "We are working on something that is unprecedented as far as
minor use goes," says Mark Olson, provincial pulse industry development
specialist with AAFRD. "We are going to be looking for registration of
a couple of wild oats herbicides, a couple of broadleaf herbicides, a couple
of seed treatments, a couple of fungicides and a couple of desiccants –
10 or 12 product registrations all at once."

One of Olson's responsibilities in the initiative is to take the results from
these diverse studies and develop a manual for lupin growers, as well as one
for fababean growers, by 2007.

Fababean is the best nitrogen fixer.

Along with many Alberta Agriculture staff, the lupin and fababean effort involves
researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Alberta Research Council,
University of Alberta, Lakeland Applied Research Association and private industry.
Many of the projects come under Alberta Agriculture's major three year Lupin
and Fababean Agronomic Research Initiative. The Alberta Crop Industry Development
Fund and the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission are funding some of the projects.

Olson says funding for all the different research components for the two crops
is well over $1.25 million. He notes that some researchers have become involved
in the effort at no cost because they are quite interested in studying aspects
like the phenolic compounds in lupin seed and the potential for using lupin
fibre as a biofibre.

… and the market potential
The team is also investigating market options for lupin. Processors in many
sectors, including the aquaculture industry, are interested in looking at Alberta
lupin. So in 2005, the initiative included a number of 'grain increase' plots
to provide interested processors with sufficient lupin seeds and fibre for testing.

The initiative is also involved in 'price discovery' – determining the
price range potential buyers might be willing to pay for lupin – and then
using that information to see if production is economically feasible.

Olson adds, "At Alberta Agriculture we've gone from selling what we can
grow, to growing what we can sell. Now we explore the market opportunity first
and then figure out from there if we can grow the crop in Alberta. That's in
large part what we are doing with lupin and the white-flowered fababean and
another crop called mung bean."

Pioneering days
If all goes well, the researchers hope to see pedigreed seed production of lupin
starting in 2006 or 2007, and commercial production starting in about 2010.
But Lopetinsky emphasizes they have some 'significant barriers' to overcome
before that can happen. For instance, they need to stabilize yield variability,
obtain minor use registrations and assess market potential. He says, "We're
still in the pioneering days of lupin."

Lopetinsky summarizes the current results of the agronomic studies. "We've
selected two varieties that have gone to Plant Breeders' Rights registration.
We've found that the inoculant has to be specific to lupin and we have an inoculant
from the Nitragin company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that is very successful.
We've also significantly improved crop emergence with the use of seed treatments."
As well, the researchers are finding some herbicides with good potential for
use with lupin and identifying others that can really damage the crop. Lopetinsky
notes, "Lupin doesn't seem to fall into the group of the other pulse crops.
For example, a particular herbicide that you use on field peas may totally wipe
out lupin."

The Alberta initiative has the potential to provide a solid foundation for
commercial lupin production. Olson says, "When the production manual is
published in 2007, growers will have really good information. They are not going
to be guessing about what works and what doesn't work for lupin, like we did
in the pea industry 20 years ago. It's taking a lot of work by a lot of people,
but that's the name of the game if we are going to make this industry grow."

The Bottom Line
A new crop, like lupins, which is adaptable to the higher moisture
areas, particularly the Parkland and Peace regions of Alberta, would be
very welcome to growers.

It would be a huge boost to the economy. The introduction of peas to
the crop rotations has had a major impact on the viability of many farms
on the prairies. Not all areas of the prairies have been suitable to grow

Disease in peas has been a limiting factor. Lupins or fababeans will
overcome some of these issues. Market development will happen if both
quality and production targets can be achieved. Strong and active pulse
grower organizations are in place, so moving forward on introducing a
new crop complete with agronomy and marketing information should be much
easier than the introduction of peas 20 years ago. Dave
Hegland, Wembley, Alberta



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