Research explores irrigated lentils, corn, vegetables

Weather plays factor | Timely, abundant rainfall this year made irrigation unnecessary

OUTLOOK, Sask. — Lentils are typically a profitable dryland crop, but researchers at the Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre want to know if it would be even more profitable under irrigation.

An experiment is underway at the Outlook centre to see how red lentil yields will compare.

Lentils are among crops such as oats and canaryseed that aren’t usually considered for irrigation.

Irrigation agronomist Gary Kruger said the same experiment failed two years ago after the one-acre test plot was abandoned.

“Disease took over the stand and wiped it out,” Kruger said.

His report on that project also noted weed pressure and lack of podding.

“This demonstration was not a good indication of the potential for lentil production under irrigation because of high rainfall this year and logistical problems involved with weed control and disease control,” he said in the 2010 report.

Part of the problem was that irrigated fields are often sown to canola, and sclerotinia spores are common.

However, the continued popularity of lentils, along with new, stronger red lentil varieties, led to another try.

Two plots were seeded earlier this year and both were grown as dryland crops until at least July 12, when the irrigation centre held its annual field day.

This year, timely and generous rainfall has made irrigation virtually unnecessary for most of the trials underway in Outlook.

Saskatchewan corn growers will soon be able to use agronomic information based on local trials to make varietal decisions.

Although evaluations of silage and grain corn have been done at the Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre in Outlook for years, they have been in conjunction with the Alberta corn committee.

That has changed this year with the start of an eight-variety trial at the irrigation centre in Outlook, funded by the Irrigation Crop Diversification Corp.

The trials are being conducted under irrigation and dryland conditions.

“Those varieties that were selected for that specific test are available locally and they have heat unit ratings that are applicable to the Outlook area,” said Sarah Sommerfeld, a regional forage specialist.

The information that is collected will begin to build a base of information for local producers to draw upon, particularly in the variety guide developed each year to help producers make decisions.

Corn typically does respond to higher moisture levels, but agronomist Gary Hnatowich said the dryland and irrigated plots are essentially being grown under the same conditions this year.

“The most we’ve put on corn was half an inch of irrigation,” he said.

The conditions do affect the research, but Hnatowich said both wet and dry years are needed to get proper evaluation of some of the varieties.

“In one way it might be disappointing in that we’re not seeing a lot of differences, but at the same time it’s useful information to have,” he said.

“In future, we want to start looking at things like row spacing, plant population and fertility issues. First of all, we’re going to zero in and find a number of ideal varieties and then we will concentrate on the agronomy of producing those to the fullest intent.”

Vegetable production is a viable option for some Saskatchewan farmers, says horticulture agronomist Jazeem Wahab.

The researcher told participants in a recent field tour at the Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre in Outlook that people eat 90 kilograms of vegetables per year.

“Saskatchewan imports about 15,000 tonnes of vegetables a year,” he said.

The province is only 10 percent self-sufficient in vegetable production compared to 24 percent in Alberta and Manitoba.

“Why are we not doing it?” he said about increased production.

The population is increasing and people are tending to eat healthier, he said, so more vegetable production is bound to serve a need.

Wahab also noted that Saskatchewan is within a two-day drive of 80 million people, and the potential to serve that market is great.

The province’s growers are already producing a variety of cool season crops thanks to relatively cheap land, he said, and access to water through irrigation makes production sustainable.

However, warm season crops are worth more money and growing them has become a research focus at the centre, where tomatoes, peppers, melons and sweet corn are grown underneath floating row covers and protective tunnels.

Wahab said protection from wind, hail and pests has proven itself this year. A June 26 storm pounded unprotected crops, but the others continue to grow well.

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