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Wheat fallow, UW research looks at feasibility of pulse crops in wheat fallow

Written by Saige

Dryland wheat production in southeast Wyoming is prevalent, and the soils of wheat fallow are very nutrient deficient, according to Carrie Eberle of the University of Wyoming Plant Sciences Department.

“Nutrient deficient fallow ground is a big problem when it comes to the sustainability of dryland farming,” says Eberle. “We have issues managing fertility in those soils, figuring out when to fertilize and more. If we fertilize at the wrong time and don’t get moisture when we need it, that fertilizer is a waste.”

Legumes, however, may help fix the problem, solving fertility needs and also providing an additional crop prospect for added revenue on a farm operation. 

“Pulse crops are legumes that are able to take nitrogen from the air and use it, so they require less fertilizer and may help increase soil nitrogen for the next crop,” she says. “We started a project this year that looks at nitrogen fixation of pulse crops and how different pulse crops contribute nitrogen to the soil in dryland wheat fallow.”

Pulses

Pulse crops are legumes that produce edible food products.

“Pulse crops are similar to alfalfa in that they are a legume, but instead of having forage value, we harvest their seed products for human consumption, like dry beans or soybeans,” Eberle explains. “We are using chickpeas, lentils, grain peas and guar in this project.” 

Chickpeas are more commonly known as garbanzo beans, and guar produces a product called guar gum, which is used as a food additive. It is also used in industrial fracking. Lentils and grain peas are common food products. 

“Nebraska grows dry peas, which is an industry that has really taken off,” she says, noting that western Nebraska’s climate is similar to southeast Wyoming. 

Additionally, chickpeas and lentils are grown in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

“We’re looking at areas around us and what they grow in successful rotation,” Eberle explains. 

Guar is an additional crop in the trial which provides unique opportunities. 

“Guar is a crazier crop that I heard about at a meeting,” she says, noting that guar trials have been conducted on a small scale already. “All of these crops are low water use, so they do well in dry conditions.” 

Motivation

The primary motivator of the study looks at the fertility and nitrogen value from pulse crops. 

An additional value for the study comes in the potential of a diversification option for dryland wheat producers.

“Wheat markets have been low, and producers have struggled with protein levels in their wheat. Pulse crops may be a sustainable way to add diversity to the crop rotation and harness alternative markets,” Eberle explains. 

The project plans to harvest pulse crops similar to dry beans via direct combining, rather than undercutting or windrowing the crops for harvest. 

Challenges

While pulse crops may provide a valid option for producers, Eberle also notes there are current challenges. 

“There are farmers growing some of these crops in Wyoming today, but right now, the market is limited,” she says.

Additionally, producers must look to Oregon and Minnesota for seed sources and product marketing opportunities. Currently, all pulse products  – with the exception of dry beans – are shipped out of state for processing. 

“We don’t have a well-flushed-out industry, but hopefully this study will help provide information we need to start looking at the economics of a new industry in Wyoming,” she says.

Looking forward

The first planting date for this project was on March 23, with a second planting occurring in early April and a third planting set for May. 

“This project is currently all being held at the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Lingle,” says Eberle. “We’re also working with producers near Albin who have grown chickpeas.” 

Graduate student Amberle Filley is also working on the project, which is being funded in its first year by a Wyoming Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant.

Eberle adds, “We’re just getting going on this project, and we’re looking forward to see how these pulse crops grow.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..