Fababeans economical, environmentally friendly

Research shows the beans fix more nitrogen into the soil than field peas

THREE HILLS, Alta. — More than half a million acres of fababeans would be grown on the Prairies if Paul Wipf had his way.

The farm manager of the Hutterian Brethren colony at Viking, Alta., has fallen for fababeans in a big way after the manager of the colony’s hog operation convinced him they needed to grow more of their own rations.

Their livestock nutritionist suggested fababeans as a substitute for soybean meal, and in 2013 they planted 350 acres in sandy soil in the semi-arid region of east-central Alberta. The yield was about 65 bushels an acre.

The colony expanded to 850 acres last year and averaged 70 bu.

The crop was fed to the hogs, and the surplus was marketed offshore for $8.75 a bu.

The colony also consults with an agronomist, who provided advice on managing the crop from seeding to harvesting.

“With fababeans, there isn’t a lot of experience in the industry,” Wipf said at an Alberta pulse growers meeting in Three Hills March 24.

“We had nothing but a good experience.… It is now my most favourite crop for harvesting.”

The plan is to seed 1,000 acres this year.

“With the fusarium and the clubroot, I wish we had a greater market for it because a third of my crop would be fababeans,” he said.

The colony worked with nutrition researcher Eduardo Beltranena of Alberta Agriculture and the University of Alberta on how to provide a well balanced ration and save money on imported feed. The pigs adjusted to the feed and seemed to find it palatable.

Soybean and canola meals are added to hog rations along with pulses such as peas for added protein, but it can be expensive.

Soybean meal is imported from the United States and costs about $600 per tonne by the time it arrives in Alberta.

Wipf calculated there are 5.2 million hogs on the Prairies, and the average intake is 1.62 kilograms of feed per day.

Adding fababeans to the hog rations at an inclusion rate of 24 percent would require 540,000 acres to produce 738,000 tonnes a year.

“I think there is a great opportunity for fababeans to go into the hog industry,” said Wipf.

Beltranena has been studying the advantages of fababeans and recommends them.

“We are entirely replacing soybean meal with fababean,” he said.

“We don’t need to focus entirely on the protein. The starch is the greater yield of the fababean, and that is what pushes hogs out of the barn.”

Fababeans have 28 percent protein compared to 23 percent in peas.

The Viking colony saved $8 per hog by substituting fababeans with imported meal, which resulted in an overall saving of $40,000 for the 200 sow operation.

Harvest can be tricky and can result in mushy beans and harmful mycotoxins if the crop is combined with too much moisture.

However, Beltranena said the inner core is still usable if the hulls are removed.

The colony also added fababeans to its poultry rations at 15 percent, and the results have been favourable.

Fababeans come in low tannin types with white flowers and high tannin varieties with coloured flowers. The high tannin levels result in bitterness and livestock turn away from them.

Research has found that adding zero-tannin fababeans does not affect average daily feed intake or gains, nor is there an effect on carcass quality.

As well, fababeans fix more atmospheric nitrogen into the soil than field peas.

Fababeans are a new crop for Alberta but have gained considerable popularity since 2012.

Farmers planted 100,000 acres of the crop in Western Canada last year with Alberta accounting for nearly 80,000 acres. That’s up considerably from the 2,750 acres grown in Alberta in 2004.

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