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Pulse Research: A Key APG Objective Yesterday, Today and for the Future (PCN Summer 2014) JUL 9 2014 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Pulse Crop News.

The pulse industry has exhibited significant growth over the past 25 years, and much of that success is due to the investment in research and development that enables Alberta growers to address the issues and challenges that arise.

In 1989, grower investment was used primarily to showcase on-farm demonstrations, but the collection of producer service fees, or check-off, was already being conceived as a way to ensure market development and research were key priorities for the organization.

Craig Shaw, a Lacombe area producer and inaugural Vice President of the newly formed Alberta Pulse Growers Commission in 1989, led reporting to the Commission board on pulse research and development at the time.

“The regional pea trials from 1988- 1992 showed that we had over a 50 per cent increase in yield and a reduction in maturity of around 10 days for the newer varieties compared to what we had available in mid 1980s,” he said. “I would suggest that is pretty remarkable and not likely ever seen in any other crop. We probably had another yield jump over the next three to five years and then increases became more normal in their annual yield increases. It’s easy to forget where we have come from.”

Shaw recalled planting his first pea crop in 1984 to feed to his brother’s hogs. His belief in pulses as an essential part of crop rotation continues to this day as he tends to a crop of faba beans this year.

In the beginning, Alberta farmers had limited choice in the variety of pulses that could be successfully harvested here.

“The big push was to get newer and better varieties suited to our conditions,” Shaw said. “A lot of us saw good potential there, but it was frustrating trying to convince everyone else. The Europeans were already ahead of us, and it was a concerted effort to get the Europeans interested in our market. We set up screening trials to test those genetics in our conditions. It was an exciting time to get the industry off the ground.”

Shaw recalled that pulses were still considered a minor crop 25 years ago, and some growers were concerned that if too many acres were planted with pulses that it would destroy the market. They need not have worried.

“It was always amazing that the more we produced, the market was always there to absorb what we produced,” he said. “The feed market drove us for a while, and with maturity moved into the human consumption market.”

Shaw said that it is interesting that in the beginning, APG relied primarily on the federal and provincial governments for research funding, and now the commissions are considered a source of funding for research projects.

APG’s research focus in the past is similar to today’s research priorities

In 1993, the areas of research focus were: varietal development, disease control, agronomics (weed control, fertility, seeding rates and methods, inoculation effectiveness, rotational alternatives), marketing and extension. In 2012-13, APG adopted a research and development strategy which focuses on agronomic advancement (genetic improvement and production improvement: disease and pest control, nutrient update, disease progression and monitoring, evaluation of production tools and extension) and marketing opportunity (nutritional characteristics, fractions and flours, health benefits and health claims and new product development).

Today, the APG research committee is chaired by Robert Weisgerber, a pulse grower from Schuler, who has been active with the organization for more than three years. Weisgerber feels that research is critical to deal with issues and explore new opportunities.

“An example of APG supporting our research priorities in the area of evaluation of new production tools is our investment with other grower organizations on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) to test crop scouting capacity,” he said. “Technology has been developing so quickly that these new methods supporting our agronomic practices are cutting edge now, but will be commonplace in the future, much like the practices of reduced tillage or the use of GPS technology is today.”

Leverage has always been a goal

Opportunities to leverage funding over the past 25 years have come through many groups such as the Alberta Agriculture Research Institute (AARI), Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF), Agriculture and Food Council’s programs – Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food program (ACAAF) and the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP), as well as the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF). APG has also leveraged funding directly from governments through the Agri-Science Clusters and Growing Forward programs, as well as leveraging funding from other crop and pulse grower organizations. The leverage of resources has been critical to moving APG research and development agenda forward.

Since 2009, APG has committed $2.8 million in support for research activities and managed to leverage that funding against $25.5 million. For every dollar that APG growers have invested in research during these past five years there has been $11 of other funding support to match.

Richard Krikke, APG’s current President, is pleased with the organization’s ability to stretch producer dollars.

“We look to leverage our investment with our partners whether they are with other crop commissions in Alberta, or across Canada with our fellow pulse grower organizations,” Krikke said. “Our investments in research benefit many, and leverage opportunities are valuable for everyone.”

APG’s leverage ratio of Pulse Grower funding to other funding sources over the past five years is 11%

Former APG President, Lud Prudek, who led the 1989 Commission’s vision for sustaining research to assist the pulse industry, has had his comments hold true over the past 25 years. He told the following to delegates at the 1990 APGC AGM: “Our commitment to research and extension is perpetual. We believe this is vital to the strength of our industry and must be sustained.”

A quarter of a century later, APG remains committed to building on the momentum of the first 25 years.

“When you have crops, you’re always looking at what are the market opportunities and what can we do to fulfill segments of the marketplace,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if anybody ever thought we would be as big a player as we are. It’s a pretty substantial industry now.”

The perpetual commitment to research for APG continues as a primary objective of the organization from yesterday, today and into the future.