In the last Pulse School episode, Dr. Bert Vandenberg, lentil and faba bean breeder at the University of Saskatchewan, outlined the market development challenges facing the faba bean industry. He noted, however, that the varieties farmers have to choose from are already a very good fit for much of the prairies.
Duane Ransome, member relations coordinator at the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, agrees. Based on results from 2012 field trials, faba bean held its own against or even out-performed pea in many areas of Alberta. Where moisture caused a problem for pea, faba beans lapped it up and boosted yields accordingly. “Yields in dry areas hit 50 bushels per acre for faba bean whereas in the same field pea production was 35 bu/ac…in wet areas, faba beans went anywhere from 43 to 100 bushels per acre,” Ransome says. FB9-4, a food type, yielded as high as 100 bushels an acre, compared to Snowbird, a feed type, that went 60-65 bu/ac in some plots, bucking the trend of feed crop types being the highest yielding.
Overall, faba bean is an excellent agronomic option in rotation for many areas, Ransome says. “Faba beans are very competitive against weeds,” Ransome says. “Properly inoculated, they’ll fix more nitrogen than any other pulse crop. They start fixing N about three weeks after seeding and will continue to do so all the way up until harvest, rather than stopping at flowering, like pea does.” The crop also has few pests to knock them back, though Ransome notes that pea leaf weevil, lygus bugs and chocolate spot caused some economic losses in 2012.
The hiccup, as mentioned in the last Pulse School, is marketing. Just as with wheat, there are feed types (zero tannin) and food types. Food types carry a premium, but are more subject to downgrading because of weathering. That could be an issue as faba bean is still a very long season crop. For this reason, “it’d be great if we could get the days to maturity closer to the 110 to 115 mark,” Ransome says. The export market is limited to Egypt and the North African region, and, while faba is very high in protein, the tannin types can cause chickens or hogs to go off feed, which further segregates an already small market. As far as agronomics go, the food type is also very large, which can cause some setbacks at seeding.
In this episode of the Pulse School, Bert Vandenberg further outlines some of the agronomic challenges to growing faba bean, as well as some of the growing areas where they may be a good fit.
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