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Improving Field Pea Yields in Western Canada

Crop rotations that include pulses have been shown to benefit soil health, decrease the use of nitrogen fertilizers, lower pest infestations, and increase productivity while lowering the carbon footprint of subsequent grain crops. Field pea, the number one pulse crop grown on 2.3 million acres annually in western Canada, has seen declining seed yields in recent years. This has been observed across the major pulse growing areas of western Canada. Working through the Pulse Science Cluster, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists have been examining the factors, such as heat stress due to warming climates coupled with water stress during the early growth period that could be contributing to this decline.

The scientists found certain pea varieties are less sensitive to heat and water stresses. Generally, plants stressed during the early flowering period had an opportunity to recover compared to plants that were stressed during mid-flowering. The researchers suggest that more resilient varieties should be included in conventional breeding programs to improve future field pea performance.

The beneficial soil microbial communities in pulse fields promote plant growth and benefit the crops grown the following years. The team found that the structure and functionality of these soil bacteria communities vary with pulse type and variety. Certain varieties induce positive rotation effects on wheat grown the following year. Thus, the selection of crop varieties for their ability to improve soil biological quality is crucial for increasing soil productivity. Soil moisture influences the structure of the soil bacterial community – drier periods limit the growth of beneficial soil bacteria.

These findings will be used to develop best management practices to help farmers increase the resilience of field pea production.

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