Legume Logic-LREC hold seminar on faba beans

The Langdon Research Extension Center(LREC) held a faba bean seminar in conjunction with Legume Logic at the LREC on Wednesday, February 8. A crowd of about 60 area producers gathered to hear the latest on this potential crop.

Posted 2/17/2017

By Melissa Anderson

“The NDSU Agricultural Experiment station has many missions. One is to test potentially new and emerging crops that may be profitable to producers in the future,” Randy Mehlhoff, Director at the LREC, stated, “Faba beans are a new potential cash crop that is very adaptable to our growing season conditions.”

As a new and emerging crop to this area of North Dakota, faba beans have many avenues of research projects that are needed to assist growers in establishing the best management practices in order to grow it profitably.

“Some of these research areas include planting depth, row spacing, proper fertility, weed control, disease control, variety selection, etc.,” Mehlhoff explained.

At the LREC, there are currently eight varieties being tested: Boxer, Fabelle, Fanfare, Laura, Sampo, Snowdrop, Tobasco and Vertigo. At this time, however, there has not been enough research completed to actually recommend one variety over another.

Faba beans offer producers many agronomic benefits as they can handle wet soils, are very tall/stand well, tolerate frost, are the highest nitrogen fixing annual legume, are high protein, and have an aggressive root system to use up moisture,” Cody Roland of Legume Logic explained.

Legume Logic feels that faba beans fit well in areas north of Highway 2 and fit the best in the northeast areas around Rolla and Langdon.

“The reason they fit best here is faba beans enjoy ample moisture and don’t like 90 degree heat. As such, the environment in the Rolla/Langdon area is ideal,” Roland explained.

The field trials done at the LREC have boasted the best yields over the past few years, averaging over 80 bushels per acre with a few varieties averaging a yield of over 100 bushels per acre. Planting at the Langdon locations occurred within the first few weeks of May, which were ideal due to the cooler climate. Fields chosen had a good water holding capacity with a full profile of moisture and low in nitrogen levels to maximize the nitrogen input of the faba beans. Faba beans will contribute 65 pounds of nitrogen to the following crop based on a 50 bushel per acre faba bean crop.

Another benefit to the Rolla/Langdon area is that the areas have been plagued with root rot in a lot of their other cool season legumes (peas, lentils) thus they don’t have a cool season legume in their rotation.  Faba beans are more resistant to root rot and can be a cool season legume that producers can add in their rotation within the Rolla/Langdon area.

The markets for faba beans in the U.S. are still in the development phase, which is a problem many new crops face. Currently, there are three main markets for faba beans:

(1) Export – Faba beans are a staple of the middle-east diets, with Egypt being the largest importer. This market is very quality sensitive and prefers a large seeded, tannin type.

“Right now the export market is down due to Egypt’s economic state,” Roland said.

(2) Fractionation – This process involves separating the starch, protein and fiber for pet food. The human food industry is the most exciting market. There are already companies in North Dakota who are active in these markets for yellow peas and are exploring the benefits of faba beans for this processing. The advantage that faba bean have are: higher protein, a whiter starch and a more neutral taste.

“This market would be based more on the protein content than the quality and would potentially use all types of faba beans,” Roland explained.

(3) Livestock Feed – Again, the higher protein and feed value of faba beans make them a very good fit for the livestock, fish and poultry industry. The zero tannin types like Tabasco would be the best varieties for this industry. The feed market is well established in Canada and can be a major player in marketing faba beans in the US. The non-GMO factor will help market this high protein feed.

Even with these potential uses, Mehlhoff explained that perhaps the most challenging obstacle to overcome in order for faba beans to become a commercial cash crop for growers is the creation of viable high demand markets. Currently, the largest market for faba beans is the feed market but that in itself is limited as the feed market offers a lower price than the human food market. Faba beans do have the potential to be marketed to food manufacturing companies but that has not been fully established yet.

“In my opinion, the food market would need to be established for this crop to become a reality in that farmers would receive higher prices and become more profitable,” Mehlhoff explained, “In addition, there is no risk management insurance program for faba beans, and that is also an obstacle.”

Because the interest in faba beans is there, Legume Logic feels demand is sure to follow and assist in the development of markets. For those interested in getting a foot in the door on the growing of faba beans, prices for the crop vary.

“Regarding prices – due to developing markets, the prices will vary. The best option is probably to contact Legume Logic and we can put producers in touch with marketers,” Roland stated.

Even with the concerns for market demand, Mehlhoff believes that faba beans do have potential as a viable cash crop in the Langdon area because of its favor towards high moisture and cool growing seasons in addition to being the highest nitrogen fixing legume in the world which benefits producers’ fields and pocketbooks.

“The more nitrogen it adds to a grower’s field the less nitrogen the grower would have to apply the following growing season. Nitrogen is the most expensive input growers have in growing crops,” Mehlhoff explained.

Legume Logic wants to thank all the presenters and NDSU for all their assistance with the research and development of faba bean in North Dakota as a viable crop.

“We plan to continue collaborating with NDSU regarding continued faba bean research,” Roland said.

If area farmers/growers are interested in raising faba beans, there is seed available, and they should contact Legume Logic at (701) 965-6058 (Dick) or (701) 641-0214 (Cody). Also, please feel free to contact Legume Logic or the Langdon Research Extension Center regarding any additional questions.