Recently an interesting study was released by an educator and a group of graduate students at the University of Nebraska that concluded tillage had a favorable impact on chickpea and field pea growth and production as compared to no-till practices.

Taking place at the Henry J. Stumpf International Wheat Research Center at Grant, Neb., during the 2018 and 2019 growing seasons, the students from the University of Belgrade-Serbia said several farmers had observed tillage prior to planting, “produced better field pea yields.”

This was possibly due to earlier and more uniform emergence and canopy development, better weed suppression, extended flowering periods and uniform maturity and drydown at harvest.

So the group embarked on their own study. The field pea variety Durwood was planted on March 14 and March 29 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Field pea seeding rate was 350,000 live seeds per acre and planting was performed using a 20-foot Crustbuster no-till box drill with a 7.5-inch row spacing.

Two chickpea varieties, Frontier and Orion, were planted on March 23 and March 29 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The seeding rate for chickpeas was 220,000 live seeds per acre in 15-inch rows and planting was performed using two passes with an 8-row John Deere planter.

Field peas were harvested on July 20 in 2018 and July 25 in 2019. Chickpeas were desiccated using generic paraquat seven days before being harvested on August 17 in 2018 and August 20 in 2019.

The field study found:

  • Tillage had a positive impact on germination. The germination started, progressed and finished earlier in tillage treatments, regardless of the crop.
  • Tillage either maintained or increased the grain yield of field peas and chickpeas. In 2018, grain yield of field peas was increased by 12 bushels an acre, while chickpea yield was increased by 6 bushels an acre. There was no impact of tillage on grain yield in 2019.

I think the university and students should be commended for at least investigating the effects of these practices rather than just taking the word of what a group of farmers said.

But here’s the rub: What apparently wasn’t measured was how much soil moisture loss occurred when the heavy disk they used in the tillage plots went across. Or, how much soil erosion might occur this fall and winter because of that pass that loosened soils up.

The area Grant is located in only gets 15-20 inches of rainfall per year. Growers cannot afford to lose moisture or they’ll run the risk having no germination or yields at all.

Hopefully those reading the results of this study will take that into consideration before trying any like this with their pulse crops. As has been said before on the Great Plains, the next drought might be just around corner.