Record-high prices have many producers taking a closer look at pulse crops — but the full benefit may not be seen until next year.
“There are some real advantages to crops that follow pulses in the rotation,” said Mark Olson, unit head for pulse crops at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
“It’s widely documented in research in Canada and abroad that you see these yield increases and benefits.”
In a study conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, researchers found across-the-board yield increases in crops the year following a pea crop. And the yield boost changed depending on the crop.
“What they found is that you get anywhere between a 41 to 52 per cent yield increase in barley with barley on pea stubble versus barley on barley,” said Olson.
“In wheat, they saw a 20 to 47 per cent yield increase with wheat on pea stubble. In canola, it was a 15 to 96 per cent yield increase.
“There’s a definite benefit to other crops in the year following pulses.”
In addition to the yield boost, crops that followed pulses in the rotation also saw a one per cent bump in protein levels — an added benefit for crops like wheat that get a protein premium.
“That gives you a bit of a clue as to what crops you might want to follow field pea — probably not malt barley because you don’t want high protein, but in wheat, you do,” he said.
So what advice does Olson have for producers who are still holding off on putting pulses in their rotations?
It’s simple: “Do it.”
“There’s still so many people who don’t put pulses in their rotation, but the advantages are so numerous,” he said, adding pulse acreage in Alberta increased by 20 to 25 per cent last year, with room to grow again this year.
“If you haven’t looked at pulse crops, I think it’s a good time to look at them.”
Agronomically, pulses are a good fit in the rotation, even without the yield boost for the following crops. Pulses fix their own nitrogen, reducing fertilizer costs, and help conserve moisture and nutrients for deep-rooted plants like canola.
And the genetics for field peas — the most commonly grown pulse crop in Alberta — are getting better every year, said Olson.
“They’re better standing, and they’re higher yielding,” he said. “But they’re not the easiest crops in the world to just throw in the ground and hope for the best. You have to take the time to do your homework and figure out how to manage these crops.”
If you’ve never grown peas before, Olson suggests starting with yellow peas.
“The greens are a little more difficult to grow because of bleaching, and there is a bit of a yield discount at this point to growing green peas,” he said. “Historically, there’s been an advantage in terms of the dollar-per-bushel price, but yield-wise, the greens tend to yield lower than the yellows.”
But prices for pulses in general are strong, he added, so you can’t really go wrong this year when adding a pulse into the rotation.
“One of our largest consumers is India, and it’s had a couple of crops that haven’t been the best. Prices are at an all-time high,” said Olson.
“The interest in field pea and lentil is the highest it’s ever been.”
With International Year of the Pulses, “the demand is there,” he said.
“We’ve never seen prices like this before. It’s the highest we’ve ever seen,” said Olson.
“I think guys will see that it makes economic sense to put them in their rotation.”