Economic, Agronomic and Other Ways Pulses in Your Rotation Lower Your Production Risk (PCN Winter 2016) JAN 11 2016 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News
This article appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Pulse Crop News.
The most common responses that producers provide as to why they do not grow peas or other pulses is that they are hard on equipment, they are hard to harvest and that they tried them once in the 1990s and remember it being a nightmare. The reality is that the challenges of growing pulses can be easily overcome with advances in equipment, genetics, fungicides and technology, and the benefits of including them in your rotation greatly outweigh the commonly perceived barriers.
One of the greatest reasons to grow pulses is the economic returns they can provide. Although prices of pulses ebb and flow like many of the internationally traded crops grown across Alberta, the global demand for pulses continues to grow. The new crop contract prices for peas and lentils for next fall currently remain very attractive.
The reason pulses net such a high amount per acre is because they require no, or very limited, amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Often 10-15 lbs of available N for the plant will ensure seedlings get off to a good start until the rhizobium and plant begin their symbiotic process of fixing all the nitrogen the plant will require in order to set yield and finish filling the seed.
Avoiding a hefty nitrogen bill is a large reason as to why peas and lentils are among the most profitable crops for many producers across Alberta. The total cost per acre pencils out much better than other crops, such as canola and wheat, where higher rates of N are required. Although there are slightly higher maintenance and equipment costs (such as a flex header for picking up short crops, and a land roller), the net returns exceed or remain very competitive to wheat and canola, the two most commonly seeded crops across the province.
Many of the combines used in Alberta were designed south of the border for harvesting corn, wheat and soybeans. Peas, faba beans, lentils or other pulses are no more abrasive than corn on internal components. Rolling fields is an effective way to ensure stones do not enter the separator and regular emptying of stone traps is essential to prevent hefty repair costs. Producers who have picked up rocks have done so not only while harvesting pulses, but lodged cereals, oilseeds and short crops as well. Harvesting lower to the ground does however increase the odds of picking up rocks, but improvement in genetics and new varieties of peas exist that have much better standability than those of the 1990s.
Seed costs are comparable to those of canola, around $40- $50 per acre as seeding rates with large seeds are much higher. However, the option exists, providing you have good germination and vigor, that you may retain seed and replant the following year, provided you are not violating Plant Breeders Rights and selling that seed commercially. This can provide additional savings and improve the net returns per acre.
Despite higher herbicide costs, the contribution margins or net returns per acre have been found to be higher by including peas in the rotation, not only because of the reduced nitrogen bill the year you grow pulses, but the following year as well due to additional available nitrogen from the pulse residue.
Including pulses in your rotation is a great way to break disease and insect cycles, rotate herbicide groups, and increase the robustness of your integrated pest management. Peas are a much earlier maturing crop and have a high tolerance to spring frosts allowing you to seed them earlier and get into the fields harvesting earlier too. Most years, pea harvest is complete before the end of August in the Peace region, and many years, completed before mid-August south of Highway 1.
Not only does this break weed life cycles and disrupt insect cycles, it also allows you the opportunity to plant fall seeded crops such as winter wheat and fall rye. Many producers follow peas with a fall seeded crop for this reason. Harvesting pulses earlier, or later in the case of faba beans, can spread out your harvest workload and minimize your overall risk of exposure to unfavourable weather at harvest.
The residue from pulses is also very high in nitrogen to carbon ratio. Seeding a wheat crop after having grown peas, lentils or faba beans will allow you to take advantage of the slow release of N from the previous pea crop residue. Research results have shown that not only do wheat yields increase the following year after pulses, but protein levels are also boosted.
The Smoky Applied Research and Demonstration Association in 2009-10 showed that wheat yields were increased by 8-15 bu/acre following a pulse crop compared to being grown on barley or canola stubble with the same fertilizer rates. The protein in wheat was also higher in all cases when grown on pea stubble.
Peas and lentils have a very high water use efficiency, meaning they use less water to produce more yield. The plants themselves have less vegetative mass as compared to seed yield and yield well in drier conditions. Faba beans on the other hand, are a water loving crop and surprisingly will compete with quackgrass around sloughs and ditches.
Including these crops in your rotation can reduce your production risk should the growing season receive limited or excess rainfall. Having one of these pulses, or in some regions both of them, in your rotation, can ensure that you have a good yielding crop should we experience rainfall amounts that depart from the norm during the growing season.
Another benefit of including pulses in your crop mix is that it allows you to diversify your crop marketing portfolio. Having an additional crop to market decreases your exposure to potential price downturns in commodities. Pulses are staple foods in southern Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa and parts of Latin America, so demand is consistently strong.
Any good financial advisor will refer to the old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” and the same principle applies to advice from agronomists, crop marketing advisors and ag economists when communicating with farm managers. Including pulses in rotation not only makes good agronomic sense, they reduce your crop marketing risk and provide great competitive economic returns.