New pea, lentil varieties fare well in southeastern Alta.

Neil Whatley of Alberta Agriculture talked about growing lentils in Alberta’s semi-arid regions during a field day sponsored by the Chinook Applied Research Association in Oyen.  |  Barbara Duckworth photo 

OYEN, Alta. — The brown soil zones present challenges to producers, but modern farming techniques make it possible to grow a wider range of crops.

“It is a drier area of the Canadian Prairies, but nonetheless we can grow a lot of crops in these regions,” said Neil Whatley of Alberta Agriculture.

More peas, lentils and fababeans are showing up in regions such as the Special Areas of Alberta, where summer temperatures are high and precipitation levels are low. This area in southeastern Alberta was too harsh for many homesteaders, who lost their land. It eventually came under provincial management with land use conditions attached.

This summer has been hot and dry.

There were only seven days in July when the temperature dipped below 27 C, and rainfall totalled 190 millimetres by the end of the month, said Dianne Westerlund, manager of the Chinook Applied Research Association in Oyen.

“There was no significant rain in July,” she said during an Aug. 3 field day.

“Four inches of rain is pretty common for this part of the province.”

Nevertheless, plots seeded for the regional variety testing program show that new strains of peas and lentils have more drought tolerance, yield well and can work in a rotation. Results from these trials are added to the annual Alberta seed guide.

“It is not just the yield on these crops, but it is the positive rotational effect of having a legume in the rotation,” Whatley said.

Farmers need to rotate the three plant families of cereals, oilseeds and legumes, which can all survive the harsh conditions of this region.

“If you are a good farmer, you are going to look 16 years down the road and you are going to look at soil quality,” he said.

“You are going to need to have all three plant families in there to spread out your herbicides and all the positive reasons crop rotation is important.”

Pulse production also includes disease and insect breaks for other crop types, soil water use efficiency in rotation with cereals and oil-seeds, lower overall nitrogen fertilization cost, improved soil tilth and promotion of beneficial soil biological activity.

Farmers in this region are experienced pea growers. More are considering lentils and fababeans.

Fababeans like cool, moist conditions and are more typically grown in central Alberta following the Highway 2 corridor and into the northern districts.

The crop thrives if 250 to 380 mm of precipitation fall during the growing season. It also needs 120 days to mature.

“I did see a crop grown on eight inches (200 mm) of timely rainfall,” he said.

“It may not be the best crop for the semi-arid region like the brown soil zone, but it can make good silage.”

Lentils have undergone remarkable improvement, and the newer red varieties can do well with more resistance to herbicides, disease, improved seed yield and earlier maturity.

Whatley said red lentils have adapted to Alberta’s variable growing conditions, especially in the brown, dark brown and thin black soil zones. The average yield is 1,400 pounds per acre, but some growers report production levels of 1,800 to 2,000 lb.

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