Fababeans put through the paces in test plot

Agriculture Canada and enthusiastic fababean grower work together to test fungicides, seed treatments and assess yields

BENTLEY, Alta. — Harvey Brink’s love of fababeans has led him into the world of research.

Over the past five years the central Alberta farmer has seen the highs and lows of this crop, from plants growing shoulder high to this year barely reaching his knees.

Alberta farmers grew nearly 80,000 acres of fababeans last year.

On his farm near Bentley, they offer a good four-year rotation option in an area where canola, wheat and barley are commonly grown. He sees disease and insect pressures increasing for canola.

“In my opinion, probably within 10 years it will be pretty tough to grow canola here if we keep going the way we are going,” he said.

Clubroot was diagnosed in the area, and new insects such as Swede midge are appearing.

However, Canadian fababean research is limited, partly because of government budget cuts.

As a result, Brink has offered a quarter section of land to set up 40 acre plots to field test fungicides and seed treatments and do yield assessments.

He is working with agronomist Carol Holt of Parkland Fertilizer and Robyne Bowness of Alberta Agriculture to test a variety of treatments and then assess yields after harvest.

This year was dry, and the plants are stunted. Fungus was less of a problem, but insects such as lygus bugs have caused damage.

Fababeans do not compete well against weeds, so this year Brink and his son, Kyle, aimed for a plant density of 75 to 95 plants per sq. metre (seven to nine per sq. foot) in the hopes that a heavier canopy could provide a greater defence.

The Brinks started planting April 27, and the greatest problem was large seeds plugging up the air drill. They ended up running seeds through a cleaner twice to select for smaller seeds and fewer loose pods.

They used the granular inoculants Tag Team and Cell Tech from Monsanto BioAg., and both worked well.

However, nodules were slower to form this year because of dryness. Yields will be assessed later.

Micronutrients were sprayed early in the season to add boron, molybdenum, potassium and other trace elements.

“Sometimes micronutrients don’t give symptomatology. It shows up in yield,” said Holt.

Diseases such as chocolate spot and ascochyta are common problems.

One of the products Holt experimented with was Bayer Crop Science’s Delaro, a broad-spectrum fungicide for peas, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans.

Lisa Gustafson of Bayer said it has not been approved for use on fababeans, although crop trials could prove it works well and registration could come later.

Fungicides are necessary, especially for farmers who hope to sell fababeans into the export market, said Bowness.

“We have shown repeatedly in our cereals and pulses that fungicide is always money well spent in a normal year,” she said.

Egypt is a major customer for fababeans and has zero tolerance for ascochyta. The disease is seed borne and has not been found in Egypt.

Holt recommended testing seeds for disease before they are planted.

“Unless you get it tested, you don’t know what you are putting in the ground,” she said.

Brink will use a desiccant before harvest to get rid of the leaves. Holt advised checking to make sure the desiccant is registered for the crop. Otherwise, it will be rejected for the export market.

Fababeans have big seedpods and thick stems, which prompted Brink to set the combine header as high as possible and leave a four-inch stubble.

Brink has several marketing options.

He adds low tannin fababeans to the ration at his feedlot, cracking them in a hammer mill. The crop is palatable, highly nutritious and contains up to 28 percent protein.

However, there is also a large human food demand, especially in the Middle East and Mediterranean countries, said Christian Chivilo of W.A. Grain and Pulse Solutions at Innisfail, Alta.

Saskcan Pulse Trading is the other Alberta fababean buyer.

Egypt is a major but demanding market. Buyers reject beans with fungal, insect and mechanical damage.

Australia, France and the United Kingdom are the major suppliers, so Canada does not influence price, which is around $6.50 per bushel.

W.A. Grain hopes to export 10,000 tonnes, but that is half of last year’s sales.

“We probably will see a lot more product moving into the domestic market this year compared to last year,” Chivilo said.

The domestic market is strong, and more feed mills have added fababeans into livestock rations for hogs and feedlot cattle.

Demand could improve with more research and improved crop development.

As well, if Alberta had a fracturing plant, the crop could be diverted there for value adding rather than exporting the raw product, he added.

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