Growers seeing fababeans as lentil, pea alternative

Fababean acres are increasing in Western Canada in part because they are more resistant to aphanomyces than peas and lentils.  |  File photo

Fababeans are a small-acre crop in Western Canada, but they have become an increasingly popular choice with growers.

The crop’s prairie acreage doubled in 2015 from the previous year, said Sherrilyn Phelps, the agronomy and seed program manager at Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.

“We can assume that we were close to 200,000 acres as of last year in Western Canada,” she told a farm conference in Saskatoon earlier this year.

“Alberta has been leading the way in terms of acres, and Saskatchewan actually tripled the acres last year.”

Saskatchewan farmers grew the crop mainly around Saskatoon in the dark, moist brown to black soil zones.

“The reason it’s most suited to those soil zones is that it does like moisture, it does tolerate wet feet and it is a good fit for areas that have been having troubles with growing peas,” Phelps said.

Fababean varieties have greater resistance to aphanomyces than peas and lentils have and about the same as chickpeas.

Approximately 300 millimetres of rain are required to achieve 44 bushel per acre yields.

The crop has much better standability than peas, which can make harvest easier.

Fababeans can fix up to 95 percent of their nitrogen needs, which makes it the highest nitrogen-fixing legume crop grown on the Prairies.

“Under dry land, fababeans fix about 80 to 160 pounds of nitrogen,” Phelps said.

“There are some reports that they can fix up to 250 lb. of nitrogen, but that would be under higher water conditions and irrigation.”

The variety guide says fababeans need 105 to 109 days to reach maturity, depending on the variety, but Phelps said producers should count on 110 to 111 days.

Days to maturity are similar to canaryseed, Canadian Prairie Spring wheat and soft red spring wheat, and the crop requires a shorter season than hemp and soybeans.

Tannin and non-tannin varieties are available. The tannin varieties’ seeds are browner and geared for the higher value food market.

Growers need to pay close attention to seed size when planting because it is highly variable in fababeans.

“There is seed size anywhere from 335 grams thousand kernel weight, which is slightly larger than the largest pea we have out there, all the way up to 680,” Phelps said.

“This has a huge impact when calculating the seeding rates.”

Producers will usually have to seed 2.6 to five bushels per acre, and sometime even more, to achieve a target plant population of 45 plants per sq. metre.

“Last year we had seed kernel weight that was 805 gram thousand kernel weight, absolutely huge, and they should have been seeded at six bushels to the acre.”

The high seeding rates and large seed often force producers to slow down to one to two m.p.h. to avoid plugging their seeders.

Growers have had problems with the large seed crushed by the meter roller in the seeder and plugging the distributor head, tubes and boots.

She said growers can ask seed suppliers to sort seeds according to size and provide smaller seeds.

“It doesn’t have any impact on what the size is when you harvest. It will just allow you to have a lower seeding rate.”

Saskatchewan crop insurance data from 2014 showed that two low tannin varieties accounted for 50 percent of fababean acres, while tannin varieties had 25 percent of acres. The final 25 percent were categorized as unknown.

Fababeans are open pollinated and will cross pollinate with a nearby fababean crop, so growers need to be careful when deciding where to grow the crop.

“If your neighbour is growing fababeans or you are choosing to grow two different kinds of fababeans, you want to make sure that you’re growing similar varieties or at least the same type, both tannin or non tannin,” Phelps said.

She said cross pollination won’t affect the seed that is grown, but a mixture of plants will be grown the following year if the harvested seed is planted.

Phelps said there is an indication that lower tannin varieties may be at higher risk for seedling diseases because they don’t have the tannins in the seed coat that can help fight them off.

“Seed treatment will be more important for those low tannin varieties,” she said.

Fababeans are a big seed and need to soak in lots of water to get started in spring. As a result, growers must make sure to seed them into water.

The crop is seeded five to eight centimetres deep.

“It is a crop that you can put in early,” Phelps said. “It tolerates frost in the spring, and it should be the first crop that you get in. As soon as you can get on the land, you can put fababeans in.”

A 50 bushel per acre fababean crop will take up 100 pounds of phosphorus, but like other pulses, they don’t respond well to additional phosphorus.

Instead, they are good scavengers and can access existing phosphorus within the soil zone

“Fababeans remove about 1.1 to 1.3 pounds of phosphorus for every bushel produced,” she said.

“So that’s what you want to re-place. So if you have a 50 bu. fababean crop, you’re taking out 60 lb. Eventually that 60 lb. has to go back in.”

Fababean-specific inoculants are available, but the rhizobium species that nodulate fababeans are the same as for peas and lentils and products for those crops have been successfully used on fababeans.

However, Phelps said producers have to be careful because some pea and lentil inoculant strains do not nodulate fababeans well.

“If you’re looking at using a pea-lentil product on your fababeans, check with the manufacturer to make sure that it will nodulate fababeans effectively,” she said.

“If you don’t have proper nodulation and proper inoculants, you’re losing that big nitrogen gain you can get with fababeans.”

It is important to pay close attention to field herbicide rotations and herbicide history because fababeans are sensitive to residual herbicides.

For example, producers would not want to plant fababeans on fields the year after it received applications of Muster, Assert, Everest or Triton C, high rates of clopyralid, Banvel 2 or Oracle or a fall application of PrePass or 2,4-D.

Phelps recommended using pre-emergent products with fababeans in combination with in-crop herbicides.

Registered pre-emergence products include glyphosate, glypho-sate and Express (tribenuron), Edge (ethalfluralin) and Treflan (trifluralin) and Sencor (metribuzin).

Registered in-crop products in-clude basagran and Basagran Forte, Odyssey and Poast Ultra and Assure II (quizalofop) for grassy weed control.

Lygus bugs are the main pest for fababeans because they pierce the seed coat and cause little black dots on the seed, which will downgrade it. The maximum level of acceptable damage for the No. 1 grade is only one percent, or one seed out of 100.

Lygus bugs are hard to control.

“If you have lots of lygus you can spray it, but two days later it moves in from another field,” Phelps said.

“There has been work done looking at lygus control, but they haven’t been able to get the damage down low enough to make a great improvement. So it doesn’t seem economical at this point.”

Aphids, blister beetles, pea leaf weevil, grasshoppers and leafhoppers that can carry aster yellows also threaten fababeans.

The most common disease is chocolate spot (botrytis).

Ascochyta, alternaria and sclero-tinia can also affect the crop.

The nodes or growing points are easily visible on fababeans, and the plants obtain about one node per week. Growers can use this as a guide when trying to time herbicide and fungicide applications.

Flowering starts at the eight to 10 node stage when one flower is open on the plant. Full flower is when flowers are open on five of the spots on the plant, and the end of flowering is when the first pods are visible.

Only 25 percent of the flowers produce pods in fababeans.

Studies from Australia increased yields by 25 to 40 percent by adding bees to areas with low number of pollinators.

“Bees seem more important with fababeans than peas or lentils because there is a lower level of self-pollination with fababeans,” Phelps said.

Glyphosate can be used for pre-harvest weed control, but growers shouldn’t keep the seed for planting the next year.

Reglone is registered for desiccation, and Heat is being evaluated.

Desiccate fababeans when most of the plants are ripe and dry and pods are fully filled with the bottom pods turned tan or black.

“When you are looking at desiccating fababeans, the biggest thing is you need is lots of water,” Phelps said. “There is a lot of biomass there and you need lots of water. You cannot get away with putting on low amounts of water.”

The crop can be straight combined at six to eight inches off the ground. They are considered dry at 16 percent moisture, but they are often combined at 18 to 20 percent moisture and then aerated.

The 10-year average target yield is 39 bu. in Alberta and 35 bu. in Sask-atchewan.

Phelps said fababeans will out-yield peas under good moisture conditions, but peas will perform better under drier conditions.

The PDF version of Phelps’ presentation is available on CropSphere’s website.

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