Alberta farmers ramp up production of pulses

Three million acre target | Producers told newer varieties and updated knowledge have improved results

EDMONTON — Saskatchewan may be the big dog in pulse production, but Alberta is nipping at its heels, says the head of Alberta Agriculture’s pulse crops.


With slightly more than one million acres of pulse crops grown in Alberta last year, farmers are getting closer to reaching the goal of producing three million acres of pulse crops within the next 10 years, said Mark Olson.


“I think it’s an achievable goal,” he told farmers at FarmTech 2013.


Alberta already has 25 percent of the pea acres in Western Canada, and Olson said new higher yielding varieties will increase interest.


Farmers seeded 975,000 acres of field peas, 85,000 acres of lentils, 4,000 acres of chickpeas and 15,000 acres of fababeans last year, which is equivalent to five percent of the province’s annual crop acres.


Olson said strong prices in the past couple years encouraged farmers to include pulses in the more common wheat-canola rotation. Better crop varieties and increased knowledge on how to grow a good pea crop has also helped acres grow steadily in Alberta. 


Lentil acres dropped from the 140,000 acres seeded in 2010, but farmers have kept a close watch on fababeans in recent years. Forty percent of Alberta’s fababeans are now grown in southern Alberta under irrigation.


Fababeans require cool, moist growing conditions. 


The high-protein pulse is the highest nitrogen fixer of the annual legume crops.


Unlike peas, it has excellent standability, and yields of 100 to 125 bushels per acre are not unheard of in Alberta.


Trent Clark of Mannville, Alta., said he came to the pulse session to learn about possible new pea varieties. Previous crops had good yield, but were difficult to harvest.


“They were an absolute nightmare,” said Clark.


“I like something that is easy to harvest and you don’t have to worry about drying.”


Michael Bury has also grown peas but has found that they often drag out harvest if weather conditions aren’t ideal.


“I would like to see more research on early maturing soybean varieties,” said Bury, who farms near Mannville.