Pulse crops may reduce energy use and increase yields for farmers

May 17, 2011 By Melynda Harrison

Farmers who rotate pulse crops with wheat have reduced energy usage and a higher wheat yield than farmers growing wheat exclusively, according to an MSU study.

Mac Burgess, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, surveyed Montana farmers who had grown in one field over two years, and rotated pulse crops with wheat in an adjacent field over the same time period.

"Farmers who are concerned about exposure to volatility of prices, could consider putting some acreage into pulse crops," Burgess said. "They'd save money on the front end and expect a higher yield of wheat the next year."

Energy input includes more than just the diesel to run a tractor, according to Burgess. Manufacture and maintenance of farm equipment and manufacture of chemicals and fertilizer also contribute to the amount of required for farming.

"Over half of the energy that goes into is for the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizer," Burgess said.

Pea and lentil are the primary pulse crops in Montana. Bacteria on the roots of these legumes fix and convert it to a form that can be used by plants. Burgess expected farmers who rotated pulse crops with wheat would use less nitrogen fertilizer on their wheat since nitrogen was fixed by the pulse crop.

In fact, Burgess discovered that the farmers he surveyed only reduced nitrogen fertilizer by six-and-a-half pounds per acre on average, but they had a seven bushel per acre higher wheat yield in the second year than if they had grown wheat only. While the fertilizer input was similar, the end result was a lower energy use per bushel of wheat.

The study shows that the rotational effects on net energy productivity of cereals was larger than the difference between pulses and cereals in the first year. Also, the effect of increased cereal yield was larger than that due to decreased .

"I was surprised that the energy benefits were larger in the second year of the crop sequence than the energy savings in growing a pulse vs. wheat in the first year," said Perry Miller, sustainable cropping systems specialist at Montana State University and Burgess' advisor.

"Farmers have long claimed rotational benefits that are larger than I have measured in my many plot-scale studies. I was skeptical of their claims but this is proof that the farmers were correct."

For Burgess, the study results are about more than helping farmers decide what to plant.

"I think there is value to Montana farmers in consumers everywhere knowing that pulses are energy efficient and contribute to the energy efficiency of wheat production in this region," Burgess said. "If this research motivates people to eat more pulses, it's a win-win."

Explore further: Organic corn: Increasing rotation complexity increases yields

Related Stories

Researchers develop highest yielding salt tolerant wheat

April 15, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a major breakthrough for wheat farmers in salt-affected areas, CSIRO researchers have developed a salt tolerant durum wheat that yields 25 per cent more grain than the parent variety in saline soils.

Summer fallow stores water in central great plains

January 12, 2011

Storing just one inch of water in an acre of soil is worth $25 to $30 per acre. That gets the attention of Central Great Plains farmers served by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers.

Rot-resistant wheat could save farmers millions

October 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- CSIRO researchers have identified wheat and barley lines resistant to Crown Rot - a disease that costs Australian wheat and barley farmers $79 million in lost yield every year.

Keeping nitrogen in the soil and out of the water

June 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Nitrogen is important for optimal crop production, but can be lost to leaching as nitrate. High amounts of nitrate in drinking water can be harmful to people, especially infants and pregnant women. While ...

Recommended for you

Scientists capture Earth's 'hum' on ocean floor

December 7, 2017

Scientists have long known earthquakes can cause the Earth to vibrate for extended periods of time. However, in 1998 a research team found the Earth also constantly generates a low-frequency vibrational signal in the absence ...

Birth of a storm in the Arabian Sea validates climate model

December 6, 2017

Researchers from Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report in the journal Nature Climate Change that extreme cyclones that formed in the Arabian Sea for the first time in 2014 ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 17, 2011
ok, more energy efficient, thats all dandy, but what about money, do the energy savings translate to more money in the farmers pocket ?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.