Mark Olson has finally found the perfect standing field pea.
“It’s called faba bean,” said Olson, pulse crops unit head at Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
“People have struggled with the harvestability of field pea for a number of years, especially in those areas where there’s a lot of moisture. Faba bean is a crop that seems to really thrive on moisture and can yield really high, as we’ve seen this year.”
Alberta yields averaged between 50 to 60 bushels this year, and getting another 10 or 20 bushels wasn’t uncommon.
“Some of our farmers on irrigation have even had yields touching on 125 bushels an acre,” said Olson. “At $8 or $9 a bushel, that gets people pretty excited.”
And more producers got in on the fun as faba bean acreage rose sharply from the estimated 5,000 acres grown last year.
“We’re thinking there’s a minimum of 15,000 to 16,000 acres of faba beans produced in 2013,” he said. “Some of the people who are actually buying the crop feel it could have been as high as 30,000 acres. It’s at least double, maybe triple, over 2012.”
Acreage could double again, Olson said, although the head of one company that has made headway marketing Alberta faba beans internationally isn’t sure that level of growth is sustainable.
“I’m hoping we stay somewhere around this level,” said Chris Chivilo, owner of Parkland Alberta Commodities in Innisfail. “I think 30,000 up to maybe a maximum of 50,000 acres is marketable at this time.”
This year, a little over half of the samples Chivilo saw made food grade. But demand for the edible market was filled in early November.
“For the edible market, we’ve pretty much missed the boat now if guys haven’t sold,” said Chivilo. “Most of the demand was booked in September or October, and typically, there’s not much of a market after that for the exports.”
However, there’s a steady demand in the feed market, he added.
“The feed market is there all year, so timing isn’t as critical if you’re moving for feed.”
Producers thinking about growing faba beans next year also need to start thinking about marketing next year’s crop, said Chivilo, who recommends looking for production contracts in January.
“A production contract would be ideal,” he said. “It’s basically risk free for the farmers. If they get hailed out or froze out, the company that offers the contract shares the risk.
“I would highly recommend doing that no matter who they do it with, at least for a portion of their production. Don’t grow them without knowing what you’re going to do with them.”