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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same (PCN Fall 2014) SEP 25 2014 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

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

Experience of a First Time Pulse Producer in 2014 Not Much Different from that of Counterpart When APG was Established 25 Years Ago

The Alberta Pulse Growers was formed 25 years ago. That same year, new pulse producer Cole Siegle was born.

As APG celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, Siegle is harvesting his first pea crop. The Clyde-area farmer graduated from Lakeland College with a Crop Technology diploma three years ago and now farms with his parents. This year, he was involved with growing field peas for the first time since he moved back to their mixed cattle and grain farm. The family planted 80 acres of Thunderbird yellow peas “because of the economics – it paid better than barley and fit into our rotation,” Siegle said. He is optimistic about how the peas will yield, and noted that they were waiting to desiccate at the time of the interview.

“Peas are more high maintenance than other crops – you can’t skip herbicide or fungicide applications and you have to pay attention to lots of different factors,” Siegle noted. “They are more susceptible to disease and are not as competitive as other crops we grow, so weed pressure really affects them.”

He experienced those difficulties with weed and disease pressure this year. He felt that the herbicides he sprayed didn’t control the sow thistle or volunteer wheat well enough. He’s also going to continue to keep the land clean for next year’s pulse crop by doing a pre-harvest application of glyphosate on the farm’s cereals this fall.

“For the disease side of things, one application of fungicide didn’t penetrate the lower canopy well enough and a second application might have been beneficial because of the steady moisture we got this year,” the 25-yearold observed. “The dews were so heavy that it was dripping wet in the morning.”

Next year, Siegle said that he wants to try mixing a full rate of fungicide in with a herbicide application to protect the lower part of the plant early. He felt two applications of fungicide would be valuable, depending on the year, to extend the period of protection.

When asked about marketing peas this year, Siegle commented: “The pea market has done the exact opposite of what I expected it would.”

However, he sees peas benefitting the family’s operation because it is the first crop that they will harvest this fall. “It’s going to allow us the ability to seed winter wheat, and it also provides highvalue feed straw for the cattle side of the operation,” Siegle said, adding that they plan to grow 300 acres of yellow peas next year. “We are also looking at trying some field-scale lentils, maybe 10 to 20 acres of Clearfield small reds to see if we can grow them in our climate. If they don’t have the right stress to yield properly, we can always silage them for the cattle.”

Being a young farmer, social media plays a role in farming for Siegle and he thinks that it can be another tool for producers. “It broadens the network that I can use to find seed, equipment, agronomic information, or pretty much anything. For example, today I contacted someone on Twitter who can source me a specific variety of seed for next year.”

He talked about social media allowing producers to connect on a global scale, which is becoming increasingly important to learn what products the markets want. When asked where he saw the industry going in 25 years, Siegle noted that with the speed of change in technology and markets “it’s hard to forecast where it will be.”

However, Siegle would like to see more secondary processing facilities in Alberta for locally-grown crops in the future. “New varieties from advances in plant breeding, combined with precision farming practices could increase pulse production enough to supply new processing facilities,” he said.

When APG came into being 25 years ago, Bow Island’s Will Van Roessel had been growing pulses for nine years already. But the difference in the industry in Alberta over the last 25 years has been like night and day.

“Dry beans were all U.S. varieties 25 years ago, and now they’re mostly Ag Canada (Lethbridge) varieties,” Van Roessel said. “Peas were mostly European varieties, and now they’re mostly Western Canadian varieties. Alberta Agriculture had an excellent extension service, and now commodity groups are providing that service. Peas are now mostly grown in the driest areas of Alberta, and not irrigated or in the black soil zone.”

But the past APG Chair and current Zone 1 Chair’s experience of growing pulses through trial and error was very similar to what Siegle has done this year.

“The first year I farmed, I grew half a circle (65 acres) of irrigated faba beans, contracted with the bean plant in Bow Island, for human consumption,” Van Roessel recalled. “The price was 7.5 cents per pound ($4.50 per bushel). I also grew a few acres of soybeans for a trial. In 1981, I grew pinto beans for the AWP bean plant. The price was $0.178 per pound. In 1982, I started growing peas for Columbia Seeds, and in 1993, I grew the first small field of chickpeas. I have grown some pulse acres every year. Some years, only peas or only beans, but quite a few years with two pulses, including chickpeas. In the last few years, I’ve been mostly growing yellow peas for seed.”

Van Roessel noted that some things about the pulse industry haven’t changed much, despite 25 years of efforts. He said that there is still very little pulse processing in Alberta, as most pulses are exported raw. He lamented that Canadians still don’t eat many pulses, and he is unhappy to observe that Sclerotinia is still the major disease problem in edible beans.

Despite these issues that continue to dog the industry, he remains a firm believer in the benefits of having pulses in the rotation for additional nitrogen and weed control purposes.

“For next year, the only real question would be how many acres of each variety,” he said. “I have to try to predict what the market will be and what variety of yellow peas to grow.”

In the next five years, Van Roessel expects to reap the benefits of strides made in pulse production research.

“Maybe in the future, there will be hybrid peas or beans,” he said. “That would be significant. Soybean breeding is the one that, if they can come up with varieties that do well in Alberta conditions, would be beneficial.”