Field pea pioneer wins innovator award

A pioneer who helped build the field pea industry in the St. Paul area is this year’s winner of the Alberta Pulse Industry Innovator Award.

Kirsty Ross (Piquette) was a provincial district agriculturist in the mid-1980s when she started to look for another option to add to the area’s crops and generate more cash flow for farmers.

“Kirsty became a visionary for the pulse industry in northeast Alberta,” said incoming Alberta Pulse chair Don Shepert, who farms at St. Brides. “She introduced a new crop that had no history in the area. She persevered through the use of grower groups to advance the crop to a place of prominence in rotations in our area.”

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Ross organized field trials after becoming intrigued by the nitrogen cycle and nutrients that pulses provide to the soil.

But it was a make-do effort, she said, in accepting the award at Alberta Pulse’s recent AGM.

“I didn’t have access to plot equipment in those days, so it was really whatever drill and harvest equipment that someone was kind enough to let me use,” she said. “Those were the days — if any of you remember — of trapper peas with the nine-foot vines that wrapped around everything. People were looking at me like I was nuts: ‘What, we’re not growing this thing up here.’ We also used cement mixers for inoculating and there were maybe one or two herbicides that were licensed for field peas.”

At the time, the St. Paul area was home to a high concentration of hogs, and that was the original target market, she noted. Growing the field pea industry was a collaborative effort of producers, grower groups, agricultural service boards, plant breeders, and many others, she said.

“By proving the crop could be grown and marketed successfully in the area, growers became interested. It was a team effort, but I guess I was the catalyst. I was able to bring everyone together. I always wondered what else we could grow up there and peas seemed to be a great fit.”

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