Agronomy Library > Soil Conservation

Managing the Risks and Rewards of Pulse Crops - Koos Wysbeek, Burdett, AB
Author: Sandra Taillieu
Date Created: December 12, 2005
Last Reviewed: December 12, 2005

Sixty miles east of Lethbridge, Koos Wysbeek evaluates the risks and rewards of dryland pulses as he plans for next year’s crop. Koos manages 4000 direct-seeded dryland acres and 4500 irrigated acres on Burbridge Farm Limited at Burdett. He is also a Commissioner for the Alberta Pulse Growers.

Koos Wysbeek

Koos Wysbeek, Farm Manager for Burbridge Farm Ltd., Burdett, AB

“Pulse crops have changed dryland farming in a really positive way,” says Koos whose farm experience spans twenty-five years. “Our dryland acres are all direct-seeded in a continuous crop rotation that alternates between cereal and pulse crops. We grow durum, yellow peas, hard red spring wheat and kabuli chickpeas. We do not direct-seed our irrigated land because sugar beets and dry edible beans are included in the rotation.”

“We started growing dry beans on the irrigated land in 1985,” says Koos. “Around the same time we started continuous cropping the dryland acres and then we began direct seeding. We tried growing canola, mustard, and sunflowers in rotation with cereals but we had trouble getting a return on them in a continuous cropping system. The input costs were just too high for what we could produce with an average rainfall of 200 mm/year.”
Yellow Field Peas
“I was looking for a good rotation crop when I found out about peas at a farm meeting,” says Koos. “In 1998, we tried them and they worked very well. Consider a side-by-side comparison of two stubble crops, fertilized the same in any given year on this farm. The durum grown on pea stubble would show a 25% yield advantage and probably some protein advantage over the durum grown on durum stubble. The rotational benefit from yellow peas is partially a moisture benefit. Yellow peas only draw moisture18-24 inches deep and for a relatively short part of the growing season as they are harvested by the end of July. In dryland farming, that makes a difference.”

Seeding yellow field peas on durum stubble stubble

Seeding yellow field peas on durum stubble stubble
“In general, if you compare stubble crops on this farm, yellow peas will yield 20% more than durum, depending on the moisture. Our yellow pea yields range from 25-40 bu/ac on average. Last year we had close to 50 bu/ac but that was an exception.“

I went to a seminar in the early 1980’s and there was a speaker there that said ‘whatever you do, don’t cut back on nitrogen for the cereal crop following peas. On a wet year you will get your bushels and on a dry year you will get your protein’. I really believe in that.”

“There is a big push to lower the amount of nitrogen you apply because the price of it is so high,” says Koos. “I won’t be doing that. My philosophy is if you’re going to farm, you have to use the inputs you need to get a return. It’s tough to do, but we had a perfect example in 2002. We had low reservoirs in the spring and it was really dry and a poor outlook. Lots of farmers cut back on N and after May it started to rain. You could drive around and see those fields hurting.”

“Nitrogen fertilizer is a relatively cheap investment for the return,” Koos says. “10 lbs of actual nitrogen costs about $4, which would be equivalent to the value of a bushel of durum. By cutting 20lbs/acre, you save $8. That same 20 lbs/acre will probably give you a net gain of 5-10 bushels in yield on a wet year or 1-2% protein on a dry year. Some years you won’t gain anything by fertilizing but I don’t think you’re losing too much either.”

Koos manages his weeds carefully. “We do a spring burn-off with 0.4-0.7 L/acre of glyphosate on our pea fields,” he explains. “We start seeding peas as early as the last week of March. They are the first crop we put in. A lot of times there isn’t much weed growth. We seed with a John Deere 1895 disc drill, which is very low disturbance. Germination of the field peas can take 7 to 14 days. I watch. If the weeds start germinating before the peas, they will be up between the time we plant the peas and when they emerge. I may do my burn-off after seeding and two days before the peas emerge. We seed, then roll, then spray with glyphosate. In-crop we usually use Odyssey to control our broadleaf weeds and wild oats.”

Kabuli Chickpeas

“The very first year I considered growing chickpeas, I looked at the seed cost and decided against it,” says Koos. “A friend of mine grew them that year and he convinced me to give them a try.”

Chickpea do not provide the rotational benefit of field peas. “Durum grown on chickpea stubble would have a comparable yield to durum grown on durum stubble,” says Koos. “Chickpeas root deep and draw moisture from up to 3 feet for the full length of the growing season as they are harvested at the end of September or later. This leaves much less moisture than field peas for the following crop.” Still, the comparatively high returns for quality make chickpeas an attractive option for the dryland acres of Burbridge Farm Limited.

“I grow CDC Zena and CDC Diva varieties of Kabuli chickpea. Seed this spring cost me $0.52/lb and I seeded 150 lbs/acre. If you grow chickpeas you have to be willing to put the inputs into it. When I seed chickpeas, I prepare to spend more money on herbicides the following year but it’s all about returns. That’s the only reason I stick with chickpeas - the returns.

“Our yields for Kabuli chickpea averaged 1800 lbs/ac in 2003, 1200 lbs/ac in 2004 and 1400 lbs/ac in 2005. The last two years the price for kabuli chickpeas has been good. The chickpeas are graded by size and this year we were able to get $0.38/lb for 9mm chickpeas and $0.45/lb for 10mm chickpeas. It works out to roughly $20-$24/bu, which is very attractive. Last year, I grew a couple of quarters for seed so hopefully the return will be good on that too.”

“Chickpeas are a high management crop,” says Koos. “They can only be grown once in four years because of the potential yield loss caused by ascochyta blight. This year, with all the moisture we had there was a lot of disease pressure from ascochyta. We sprayed the chickpea 4 or 5 times with Bravo, Quadris and Headline fungicides in rotation at $13-$15 a pass to protect the crop from ascochyta.
“Weed control in Chickpea is also very tricky because the in-crop herbicide choices are so limited. I still have mixed feelings about growing chickpea because of the problems with weed control. We do apply Edge in March or early April on the fields we plan to seed into chickpea. We broadcast it when there is rain or snow in the forecast.”

“2003 was the first year I grew chickpeas and I put the Edge on in January,” explains Koos. “Then we got 3 inches of snow and it worked great. Our crop was as clean as a whistle. In 2004 I put the Edge on in March and we didn’t get any moisture. It didn’t work very well at all. Our chickpea crop was a disaster. But, we had a nice fall and the weeds dried down so I didn’t have to use a pre-harvest. We harvested and the returns were still very good.

“In 2005, we had fairly good control with Edge on 2/3 of the chickpea acres but it was less effective on the sandier soil where we had a fair amount of weed growth. We usually harvest chickpea the last week of September. The chickpea have to mature naturally. Normally, a killing frost will dry down the weeds, but this year we had to apply Reglone to the crop mid-September for dry down.”

Special Management for Pulse Crops

Field selection is critical to growing any pulse crop successfully. “At harvest I pick the fields I could use,” says Koos. “Most of the fields we have fit for field pea but not every field is suitable for chickpea. I won’t grow chickpea where there is high weed pressure or poor soil quality where the success of Edge may be questionable.”

Koos has moved to a very low-disturbance seeding system: “We went from 47 feet of Concord drill to 40 feet of John Deere disc drill,” he says. “With a knife we had to seed at 4.5 mph or the back shanks would throw dirt on the front rows. With the disc drill we can seed at about 7 mph. We use enough air velocity to get the product to the boot and no more. It’s a fine line with peas and chickpeas. You don’t want to plug and you don’t want to damage the seed.”

“The biggest advantage with the disc drill is moisture conservation,” says Koos. “With a knife, we would often seed into moisture but after two or three days of Chinook winds, that seed-row was dried out. With the disc, we just slice it in and the seed is protected.

1895 John Deere no-till disc drill

1895 John Deere no-till disc drill

“With the disc drill, straw management is critical. The main down-side with this drill is that heavy residue can cause a hair-pinning problem. We use a chopper and spreader on our combines. If we get the residue spread evenly, we can manage the problem.”

“We harvest everything with draper headers and straight-cut everything,” says Koos. “We use a rotary combine, which is gentle on pulses at harvest. We use conveyors to handle the peas and chickpeas and to fill the air cart. Handling pulses with conveyors helps to limit seed coat damage.
“I pick the best of my own seed to use for next year and keep it separate. I get my seed tested for germination and vigour. If it does not meet my standards, I buy new seed. I really believe you have to start out with good seed.
“We always inoculate our peas and chickpeas but we don’t use any fertilizer on them. I may try using nitrogen on our chickpeas and do a side by side comparison to see if adding N instead of relying on nitrogen fixation might speed maturity. We used to apply only 40-50lbs of N with our dry beans and now, over the last 4-5 years we’ve been using 80-100lbs of actual N on irrigation for that very reason.”
Koos admits pulse crops require special management, but he believes they are key to the long-term success of his dryland crop rotation.
“If there is anything you want to do in life, there is no return without risk,” says Koos. “The rewards are there but it takes disciplined management, the right inputs and a lot of luck!”

Field peas on May 3, 2004
Field peas on May 3, 2004