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Zero-tannin fababean is taking off

Zero-tannin fababean is a home-grown protein source and much more.


November 26, 2007
By Carolyn King

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Zero-tannin fababean is a home-grown protein source and much more. With the
help of a major research effort, this emerging pulse crop is filling a niche
for Alberta producers.


Zero-tannin fababean is catching the eye of Alberta pulse growers. With good
agronomic characteristics and great potential for the on-farm hog feed market,
this crop has plenty to offer. To help make the most of this potential, Alberta
researchers are developing the information that producers need on the crop's
agronomics, economics and market opportunities.

 6a
The white flowers with no black dot indicate the zero-tannin varieties
of fababean.
Photo Courtesy Of Mark Olson.


Why remove the tannins from fababean? "Tannins have some anti-nutritional
properties. They give the seed a bitter or astringent taste that monogastrics,
such as pigs and poultry, don't like. Tannins also have the ability to precipitate
proteins, which results in the inactivation of gut enzymes and affects digestion,"
says Mark Olson. Olson is the provincial pulse industry development specialist
for Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AAFRD) and a member of
the research team.

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With less than one percent tannins, zero-tannin fababean is a great option
for hog feed. Olson says, "By removing the tannins, the palatability improves,
so the animal's feed consumption is better. It's also a good feed source –
fababean can range in protein content from about 28 to 32 percent, compared
to field peas with 18 to 24 percent."


From an agronomic perspective, fababean is excellent at fixing nitrogen and
has good standability for harvesting. It is a good fit in the Parkland and Peace
regions of Alberta, where it can out-yield field peas when rainfall is adequate.
And like other pulses, fababean benefits a crop rotation by adding nitrogen,
improving soil quality and breaking disease, weed and insect pest cycles.

 6b
Zero-tannin fababean is excellent at fixing nitrogen. Photo
Courtesy Of Peter Woloshyn.


Already, Alberta producers are responding to this promising crop. "The
uptake has been phenomenal. Roughly 6000 acres of fababean were grown in Alberta
in 2006, and almost all of those acres were zero-tannin varieties. Producers
really are interested in the whole concept of home-grown protein for the prairies,"
says Olson. "I'm sure the seed growers that are multiplying the seed could
have sold two or three times the amount of fababean seed that they had available,
but it takes time to get commercial quantities available."

Setting the stage for success

To create a good foundation for this crop's success, AAFRD and its partners
have been working on a wide range of studies about zero-tannin fababean production
and processing.


The agronomic studies are led by Ken Lopetinsky, AAFRD's pulse research agronomist.
They cover such aspects as seeding date, timing of weed removal, inoculants,
fertility, herbicide options and desiccants, at field sites liberally sprinkled
across Alberta's Parkland and Peace regions.


Olson says, "Fababean is better adapted to areas with more consistent
moisture throughout the growing season. In the drier parts of the province,
the crop will grow, but you're not going to get yields high enough to make it
an economically viable alternative in the rotation. In the irrigated areas,
fababean can't compete economically with crops like sugar beets, dry beans,
processing peas and sweet corn. Also, high temperatures during flowering will
cause blast, resulting in much lower seed production."

 6c
Zero-tannin fababean has great potential for the on-farm hog feed
market.
Photo Courtesy Of Mark Olson.


The researchers recently completed three years of field studies and are busy
analyzing the data. Olson outlines a few of the research highlights: "We
had some really phenomenal yields, and there's no question that it's the highest
nitrogen fixing crop that we have." The results show that fababean saves
on fertilizer costs. He says, "This is an inoculated fababean so the nitrogen
component is taken care of by inoculating with rhizobia bacteria. In our fertilizer
studies, we looked at potassium, sulphur and phosphorus individually and combined.
Only phosphorus needs to be added, and just a small amount of it gives a significant
increase in yield."


The economics for the crop look pretty good. He says, "Under good growing
conditions in 2005, we had farmers that had 100 bushels per acre of zero-tannin
fababean. Even if you sold that at a $3.00 per bushel field pea price, which
was the price in 2005, that's still a gross profit of $300 per acre. And that
doesn't take into account the benefits that a pulse crop like fababean provides
to the next crop in the rotation. For instance, pulses significantly boost the
yield and protein content of a following wheat crop, making the pulse worth
a lot more than $3.00 per bushel."


Once the field results are analyzed, Olson will be working with Lopetinsky
and Christie Hoy, also of AAFRD, to prepare a first edition of a zero-tannin
fababean production manual.


The research team also is exploring various markets for zero-tannin fababean.
For example, they are investigating the possibilities for fractionating it into
its protein and starch components for use in food processing and other areas.
However, their major focus is on nutritional analysis and feeding trials for
the on-farm hog feed market.

 6d
Researcher Ken Lopetinsky discusses a zero-tannin fababean field.
Photo Courtesy Of Mark Olson.


Olson says, "Currently the protein needs of the hog industry are being
met primarily through imported soybean meal. Locally grown zero-tannin fababean
could drastically reduce processing and transporting costs for Alberta's hog
industry." He adds, "Potential estimates of feed demand would be a
minimum of 250,000 acres of zero-tannin fababean, which could add $50 to $60
million to the pulse industry in Alberta."


He says, "Fababean doesn't have to go through any kind of processing;
the whole seed can be shipped to the hog grower. In Alberta, about 80 percent
of all feed that's fed to hogs is processed on-farm, so hog producers are set
up to do that. For that market, a farmer can afford to take a price that is
equivalent to peas or a little bit better than peas. If they're not paying for
trucking and the costs of putting it through the elevator system, they can make
a pretty good dollar. And the hog producer is happy because he has a nice high
protein crop that works well in hog rations at a lower cost than soybean meal."


Bert Dening, an AAFRD business development officer, has calculated that hog
producers could save approximately $10 per hog by using zero-tannin fababean
versus soybean in the ration.


The nutritional, pig performance and pig carcass studies are being conducted
by Dr. Eduardo Beltranena, AAFRD's pork research scientist, and Dr. Ruurd Zijlstra,
the University of Alberta's feed industry research chair. The results so far
are very promising. Along with being high in protein, zero-tannin fababean is
rich in the amino acid lysine, and the net energy available for pigs is higher
than that available from soybean meal. Some minor differences in pig performance
and carcass traits were observed between pigs fed fababean and those fed soybean,
but the overall results show that fababean makes an excellent hog feed. The
researchers are hoping to do additional performance trials for a more complete
picture.

 6e
Zero-tannin fababean with bean pods. Photo Courtesy Of Mark
Olson.


With the agronomic information coming together and the excellent potential
for the on-farm hog feeding market, Olson is very optimistic about the outlook
for zero-tannin fababean. -30-

A couple of crucial tips for growers
"I think where things can go a little sideways for fababean
growers is if they seed late. You have to get fababeans in as early as physically
possible because it is a long-season crop. We don't think you should even bother
seeding fababeans past May 7," says Mark Olson.


He adds, "One of the greatest mistakes that I've seen and heard about
is swathing fababeans. I think the growers were worried that the crop was late,
but instead of spraying a desiccant like Reglone (diquat), which will dry the
crop down, they swathed it and let it dry in the swath. That caused them a lot
of grief.


"First of all, you're taking a perfectly standing crop and putting it
on the ground. We're shooting for a plant population of four plants per square
foot for stand establishment and that's not very many plants in a square foot.
So the swath doesn't settle on the top of the stalks, but rather goes right
down onto the soil surface. One farmer told me that in his 30 years of farming,
swathing fababean was the worst thing he'd ever done. Another grower said he
did the first two rounds of a quarter section and he couldn't even pick the
swath up. One grower swathed the crop and then it snowed right after, so the
crop ended up sitting out until the spring.


"Because fababeans, like most legumes, are fairly high in sugars, the
seed picked up some toxic moulds, identified as
Penicillium species,
Mycelia sterilia and yeasts. The producer combined it in the spring and
tried to sell it into the feed market, but they didn't want to buy it."
-30-

 6f
The cream coloured beans of the zero-tannin variety Snowbird.
Photo Courtesy Of Mark Olson.

Shrinking agriculture's footprint
Along with their agronomic and economic benefits, Olson points out
that fababeans and other pulse crops are good for the environment. "The
'energy footprint' of a crop is the amount of energy per acre that it takes
to produce that crop. A pulse crop only needs a fraction of the usual amount
of manufactured fertilizers that a cereal or oilseed crop needs. This reduces
greenhouse gas emissions because there is less fertilizer production required
to produce that crop. If you are applying a small amount of fertilizer, you
can usually just apply it with the seed in a one-pass system, so you are using
less fuel to apply the fertilizer.


"Moreover, about 80 percent of the pulse crops in Alberta are grown in
reduced tillage systems, which also means fewer field passes, and reduced tillage
prevents soil erosion, which reduces the risk of soil and phosphorus being carried
to nearby water bodies (degrading water quality).


"Now think about soybeans. In the US, they use a lot of fertilizer to
grow it, they have to process it to make it acceptable for rations and they
have to transport it up here. If you look at the ecological footprint of using
soybean meal versus home-grown zero-tannin fababean that you just haul a couple
of miles down the road, think of the savings for the environment." -30-