Winter Pulses — Promising, But More Research Needed

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“Rather than finding out what’s the best date to plant, perhaps we should be thinking about what stage is best for overwintering.”

Determining the best seeding date is important for producers of winter crops, but one expert suggests the better measure might be what stage of plant growth is best going into winter.

“Rather than finding out what’s the best date to plant, perhaps we should be thinking about what stage is best for overwintering,” says Mark Olson, provincial pulse industry development specialist with Alberta Agriculture. Olson was on hand at the Southern Applied Research Association’s (SARA) annual diagnostic field school in July to answer questions about winter crops.

Last fall, Olson participated in a study where winter pulses were planted September 1 and three more times 10 days’ apart. Sites were at Lethbridge, Brooks, Lacombe and Edmonton.

This spring, Lethbridge had the best survivability at about 60 per cent, while no plants survived in Edmonton, which was not surprising due to different climates. Further results will be released later.

Another issue that deserves some attention is the optimal depth to plant. “This is one of the most controversial issue we come across,” says Olson. He says it depends on soil moisture.

Interest in winter pulses in Alberta really began in 2004. The next year, researchers began trials with Austrian winter pulses, which have continued every year since. Even though winter pulses are gaining popularity, there are still no registered varieties in Canada, with most of the seed, breeding and research coming from the United States.

Ken Coles, SARA’s general manager, says there are many benefits to growing winter crops. First of all, winter crops have earlier flowering dates, meaning they can beat the hottest parts of the summer and avoid flower blasting. Winter crops also spread out the workload over the year, although some would say it’s more work when you’re trying to harvest and seed at the same time.

The longer growing season also means a potential for higher yields and winter pulses can fix more nitrogen. For organic growers, winter crops are quite competitive with weeds, reducing the need for other weed control methods.

One downside is that winter crops, specifically pulses, might be more susceptible to disease and pests. For that reason, winter pulses have been used in research trials as a trap crop for the pea leaf weevil.

During a field tour of test plots, Coles pointed out that better varieties are needed for winter barley. He also noted a plot of winter triticale, which he says was the nicest crop until frost hit in early June.

Even though winter triticale is not a significant crop in southern Alberta, it has much potential, says Cole. It is very adaptable, competitive and easily identifiable. Furthermore, it is said that triticale could be the next canola when it comes to bioprocessing capacities.

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