“We often talk about how we need oxygen to breathe, but the air that we breathe is 78 per cent nitrogen.”
If you’ve had peas in your rotation recently, you would have been especially pleased this year because of its bonus of free nitrogen.
Mark Olson, provincial pulse industry development specialist with Alberta Agriculture, hopes that will encourage you to look at more and different pulse crops.
“I know many of you guys grow field peas at least, so you know the economic advantages and the agronomic advantages. But there’s that whole environmental aspect that has really come to the forefront in the last five years,” he told the recent Direct Seeding Advantage conference, held in Nisku by Alberta Reduced Tillage Linkages.
Pulses can fix nitrogen from the air, so adding them to the rotation instead of using fertilizer manufactured from natural gas reduces greenhouse gases.
“That’s another thing that people often forget. We often talk about how we need oxygen to breathe, but the air that we breathe is 78 per cent nitrogen,” Olson said.
Alberta Agriculture and its consultants have been looking for potential new crops and markets for Alberta pulse growers, and have identified mung bean and black gram as two potentials. There is not a large mung bean market in Canada – there is about $5 million in imports annually.
End users in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have expressed interest in a domestic product. The team would like to substitute imports with locally grown mung beans, and are trying to figure out how many acres would be needed for the U. S. as well.
“If we look to our neighbours to the South, their market is about eight to nine times the size of Canada,” Olson said.
Mung beans, a small seeded crop, can be consumed as bean sprouts. The whole seed is processed into starches used for cakes, vermicelli noodles, soups and biscuits.
“The Chinese are really interested in those products. If you talk to them about mung bean, their eyes light up,” Olson said. The South Asian community also uses mung beans in products such as dahl, a kind of lentil porridge.
FINDING THE RIGHT VARIETY
Olson’s role in the project was to examine the agronomics and to find out whether the crop could grow in Alberta. Other members of the team investigated marketing options to find the end users of the bean, and see what they would pay an Alberta producer for the product.
In order to find a good variety for Alberta, Olson and other team members e-mailed contacts around the world searching for a crop unaffected by increasing or decreasing daylight. The team was also looking for early maturity and high yield. The team eventually gained many specimens of seed and seeded the beans in clumps.
“There’s a real variety in times of germination,” said Olson. “We couldn’t just seed them into a plot because we didn’t know what we would end up with, and we’d have a lot of empty plots.”
The beans are still grown with a fairly high tillage regime. The mung bean is a slow-starting crop, which has a growth spurt around 12 weeks. The plant produces long skinny pods with lots of seeds, but does not have high yields.
“There’s still quite a bit of work to be done. It’s a slow-establishing crop,” said Olson. The team is still struggling with broadleaf weed control, and is continuing to Phase 3 of the project, which will involve further evaluation and investigation.