The UN Food and Agriculture Organization calls 2016 the Year of Pulses. Pulses are your legume crops: beans, lentils, chickpeas, ect. The FAO almost seems to be taking leaf from the Permaculture manual. Last year was the year of our beloved soils and this year focuses on one of our favorite permaculture elements: nitrogen fixing plants. While I doubt the UN is tailoring its programing to suit permie’s interests, this shows raising awareness in the mainstream global community about the things we care about: soil health, food security, natural and sustainable methods of agriculture and fertilization.
While I have known about this year’s designation since it became this year, I didn’t have a good reason to write a blog about the topic specifically. But now I do! Yesterday I took an awesome tour of the Crop Diversification Centre in Brooks, AB. The folks there are doing some very rigorous and interesting crop variety and agricultural practice trials with an emphasis on commodity pulse crops. I will share photos and details of the tour in a later post, but right now want to share some facts that I found interesting about pulses in some of the places that I care about!
Alberta has seen an unprecedented 25% increase in its acreage of pulse crops this year due to high prices and high demand. This is largely due to Canada’s close proximity to Asian markets, so it is in a good position to take advantage of the current market. Only half a decade ago there was no market for these crops, and many farmers would use only a wheat and canola crop rotation, which requires intensive fertilizer use and never gives the soil a chance to replenish itself. Alberta could benefit even more from the current market than other provinces because Saskatchewan could loose as much as 1/3 of there crops from current flooding. A ton per acre is the average yield of pulses crops here. Pulses are often replacing feed barley and other cereals in Alberta. The only pulse crop to drop in acreage in Alberta is fava (some write “faba”) beans. This fact ties Alberta to my other home away from home, Egypt, which is the main importer of fava beans for their delicious ful and other regional dishes. The Baltic states that have started growing fava beans and are better able to take advantage of the North African market. Fava beans are unique among pulses because they continue fixing Nitrogen in the soil through death, while most pulses stop once they flower.