Note: You can listen to my conversation with Rodrigo Werle and Strahinja Stepanovic by clicking on the audio file at the end of this blog.
This year was declared the International Year of Pulses by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Nebraska is already known as a leader in pulse crops like great northern beans, for which it leads the nation in production. At a recent workshop held in Culbertson in southwest Nebraska, University of Nebraska Extension educator Strahinja Stepanovic and Extension cropping systems specialist Rodrigo Werle sat down with us to discuss the potential for a new pulse crop that's gaining popularity in dryland rotations in the western reaches of the state: field peas.
"Field peas are a pulse crop, and pulse crops have been promoted on a global level as being really healthy, nutritious, mitigating climate change, contributing to sustainable agriculture through diversity and contributing to food security at all levels. This is a global trend, so we're seeing these crops being promoted, being used more in human consumption," says Stepanovic. "We're also seeing this trend between the markets being developed, farmers growing peas and then processing facilities [handling field peas]. Everything is kind of coming together."
More and more producers are showing interest in growing yellow field peas as an alternative to fallow in dryland rotations. But this brings questions like:
• How much water am I using compared to fallow?
• How much nitrogen credit do I get from introducing a legume to the rotation?
• What kind of insect pests and diseases do I need to worry about?
• How will they affect my subsequent wheat crop?
Stepanovic and Werle, along with other UNL researchers at the West Central Research and Extension Center, including Tony Adesemoye, assistant professor in plant pathology; Julie Peterson, Extension entomologist; Chuck Burr, crops and water Extension educator; and Daran Rudnick, agriculture water management specialist, have been conducting trials with field peas in the rotation in Chase County for two years now, comparing the field pea and wheat rotation with wheat-fallow to answer these questions, and discussed this research at the workshop in Culberton in early November.
"Successful weed management was an important component of the wheat-corn-fallow rotation. However, some of those weeds have evolved resistance to herbicides that are commonly used," Werle says. "Weed management in fallow is getting more challenging, and then we see this great opportunity to include a short-season legume in a cereal-based rotation. That gives the opportunity to bring in a legume that might fixate some nitrogen for you for free. You have bacteria; you have inoculant with your seed; and there's the ability to capture some nitrogen by adding some diversity to the soil."
"We first expected we would see some extra nitrogen after the field-pea rotation. We didn't see that extra nitrogen, but it didn't reduce it," Werle adds. "There was some reduction in wheat yields afterward. However, with the fallow system, you also lose some water. The idea is you're bringing in an extra crop, harvesting it, using some extra water, but you're turning it into profitability."
Learn more about this research by listening to my conversation with Werle and Stepanovic.