Varietal improvement, high prices encourage lentil production
By Top Crop Manager
Varietal improvements and high market price are two good reasons to grow lentils this coming year.
According to Neil Whatley, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, there has been remarkable improvement in lentil genetics in recent years, contributing to an increase in grower satisfaction. Indeed, newer red lentil varieties like CDC Maxim CL and CDC Dazil CL possess "several improved characteristics compared with the older green varieties that producers historically grew or experimented with in Alberta.
"Given lentil's current high price and its continually positive rotational effects as a grain legume, it appears to be another good crop option in 2015," Whatley adds.
Lentil varietal research on the Canadian Prairies has developed red lentil varieties with improved resistance to selected herbicides (Group 2), disease resistance, lodging prevention, earlier maturity, a more determinant growth habit and improved seed yield.
"CDC Maxim CL and CDC Dazil CL, for example, are Clearfield varieties, so are tolerant to IMI herbicides (Group 2) such as Odyssey," Whatley notes. "These varieties have 'good' resistance to the once devastating ascochyta blight disease, and Maxim, for example, has 'good' resistance to both ascochyta and anthracnose, the most common foliar lentil diseases. Dazil has 'fair' resistance to anthracnose. Plant breeding has created a thicker, stronger stem base, minimizing lodging issues."
Along with earlier maturity, a more determinant growth habit has also been bred into these varieties. So, varieties like Maxim and Dazil are more likely to set seed instead of growing into lentil hay if precipitation is present during the latter part of the growing season. As a result, Whatley says, they do better in the Thin Black soil zone where extra soil moisture historically limited successful lentil production. The new red lentil varieties are also higher yielding than traditional varieties.
Red lentils are highly adapted to Alberta growing conditions, especially the Brown, Dark Brown and Thin Black soil zones. Current research is assessing the viability of red lentil production in the Thick Black and Gray soil zones.
"The 10-year average red lentil yield in Western Canada is 1400 lbs/ac," Whatley says. "Experienced growers harvest 1700 to 2000 lbs/ac on a good year. With current red lentil prices at 35 cents/lb, this is a very good economic return on investment. Lentil prices may or may not soften a bit in the spring and early summer, depending on the yield and quality of India's and Turkey's winter crop. Keep an eye on red lentil prices over the next few weeks."
Excess precipitation during the month of June in the 2013 and 2014 growing seasons has contributed to increased root rot susceptibility in lentil and field pea. "Although several root rot cases have occurred in soil that has had either lentil or pea grown in it every two years, it has also occurred in wider rotations, so use caution," Whatley notes. "Even though a return to normal weather patterns would lessen this problem, it's advised to leave at least four years between field pea or lentil crops in a crop rotation to prevent issues like root rot."
Experienced pulse growers readily admit market opportunity isn't the only reason to include a grain legume in their crop rotation. "Positive rotational effects from growing pulses also include disease and insect breaks for other crop types, soil water use efficiency in rotation with cereals and oilseeds, lower overall nitrogen fertilization cost, improved soil tilth and promotion of beneficial soil biological activity," Whatley says.