Did you know that the Canadian prairies is an ideal place to grow pulse crops such as lentils, dried peas, beans and chickpeas? Western Canadian weather patterns, soil types and conditions provide excellent growing conditions but farmers also choose to grow pulse crops as they fix nitrogen in the soil Including pulses in crop rotations helps to control disease and insect pressures.
There are two major seed types of chickpea that are grown in Canada: Desi and Kabuli. Desi-type are small and produce coloured flowers, whereas Kabuli are large and produce white flowers. Desi chickpeas are smaller and more ‘bumpy’ than kabulis and usually darker in colour. Desi chickpeas are mainly used as split chickpeas and chickpea flour (also called Besan). Kabuli chickpeas are relatively round and cream coloured with a smooth seed coat and these are the kind you’ll see in cans on the grocery shelf. It is the main type grown in western Canada—these are also known as ‘garbanzo beans’ (even though they aren’t beans)
Today we are talking with Shaun, a farmer from Kyle, Saskatchewan. He grows several crops but we are going to focus on how he grows chickpeas.
Tell us about your farm, Shaun.
Shaun: My farm is called Viking Acres Inc. We are a fourth-generation family farm at Kyle, Saskatchewan. Currently, we farm approximately 17,000 acres.
We grow a diverse mixture of crops on our farm, including durum wheat, spring wheat, canola, large green lentils, yellow peas, and chickpeas. Pulses, including chickpeas, are a key part of our crop rotation. Our other pulse crops are vulnerable to a disease called Aphanomyces root rot which is a growing concern for us. Chickpeas allow us to have a pulse that is resistant to Aphanomyces in our rotation of crops (this is how often we plant a particular crop on a particular field). This lets us extend the time between more susceptible crops such as lentils or peas.
Can you explain the seeding process?
Shaun: Chickpeas are seeded in early May, which is the beginning of planting season for us. We try to wait until the soil temperature is at least 10 degrees Celsius. It’s also important not to seed them too late, as they are a long season crop and on a wet year, it can quickly turn into a race against the calendar to maturity. My chickpeas are currently seeded with a single chute Morris Contour 2 air drill seeder. Kabuli chickpeas are a large-seeded crop, so we keep our seeding speed around 4 miles per hour in order to minimize seed breakage and plugging in the drill. The crop is then rolled after seeding, and before crop emergence. Rolling pushes rocks down for easier harvesting and must be done before the crop emergence to avoid damaging the small chickpea seedlings.
I’ve recently purchased a planter and I’m planning to experiment with chickpeas planted on 15” and 22” seed spacing next year. My hope is that the wider spacing will help with disease pressure if we happen to hit a wet season.
You often hear that chickpeas are a sustainable crop. Why is that?
Shaun: Chickpeas are one of the most sustainable crops in our rotation. Like all pulses that we grow, they are good at fixing their own nitrogen, and this allows us to minimize our fertilizer application for that year of our rotation. Chickpeas are very well adapted to our semi-arid area and are extremely good at extracting moisture. They need little moisture to thrive. Even with the last few years being quite dry, we have achieved good chickpea yields. In fact, last year they were our highest yielding dryland crop.
Can you explain crop rotation and why it is important?
Shaun: A lot of thought goes into our crop rotations and which crops will be planted the following years on a particular field. Rotating crop types allows us to alternate between crops that can fix their own nitrogen and those that can’t. The change in crop types also allows us to control different weed spectrums and break disease cycles. Another reason that we rotate is to add more leftover plant material after harvesting to assist in controlling soil erosion. Some crops produce more residue than others.
What else do you do to protect the soil and improve sustainability?
Shaun: On our farm, we follow the principal of using minimal tillage, which means we don’t work up the ground and disturb it as little as possible during seeding. This has allowed us to increase the organic matter in our soil dramatically over the last 20 years, and protects the soil from wind and erosion. We ensure that we don’t plant multiple low-residue crops consecutively because this increases the risk of soil erosion.
Crops need water to grow. Do you use irrigation?
Shaun: We do have irrigation on our farm, but chickpeas are not generally irrigated in our area. I’m aware of people who have irrigated chickpeas but I have never attempted it. Chickpeas are very indeterminate in their growth (they keep on growing and forming leaves) and adding irrigation water may delay ripening and thereby harvest. It can also cause quality issues as well.
Tell us about harvesting chickpeas. Are they hard to harvest?
Shaun: In my opinion, chickpeas are one of the easier pulse crops to harvest. They tend to grow reasonably tall and upright compared to lentils which are quite a short crop. Chickpeas are usually one of the last crops that we harvest due to their long growing season. The challenge with harvesting chickpeas is often the weather, because an early frost will result in locked-in green seeds which is devastating to chickpea quality. Late-season rains can also cause regrowth and difficulties drying down so that the crop is ready to harvest. Assuming the weather cooperates though, chickpea harvest is relatively easy with the right harvest equipment such as a flex header on a combine. It’s important to take care when setting the combine as chickpeas are a large, delicate seed and can split fairly easily.
Technology is rapidly changing in many of industries. How has it changed farming?
Shaun: Farming today looks very different from when I started in the late 1990s. When I was starting out, we grew mainly durum wheat and practiced chemfallow (leaving cultivated land free of crops for one growing season and using herbicide to control weeds). With advancements in technology and sustainable farming practices, today we grow six different crops and do not fallow. Not only has the variety of different crops changed, but the machinery has adapted to follow suit. Flex headers are a piece that are attached to the front of a combine harvester. The flex header floats low to the ground to pick up the crop. They are now a common piece of equipment on farms and they have made a world of difference in harvesting our pulse crops as well as our cereal crops during challenging harvests. Seeding has changed dramatically as well. Seed placement with modern drills is extremely precise. We have complete control of where we put our nutrients and can accurately control amounts, making us more sustainable and preventing over application and runoff.
What do you think the future of farming holds for you and your family?
Shaun: I’m very excited about the future of farming. I believe that we will see a move to more autonomous equipment on the farm. I also think we will see an increase in the number of non-chemical pest control options available to farmers. It’s also interesting to think about potential new crops or new adaptations to the crops that we currently grow, such as fall-seeded versions of some of the crops that we currently grow. In my farming career, we have faced many challenges, but some of the most exciting developments have been the solutions to those challenges. Who knows what the future holds?