By Tom Collins
DOUGLAS — A Renfrew-area couple are growing canola and peas in the same field at the same time and it’s that kind of outside-the-box thinking that more farmers need to be considering, they said.
Mike and Jennifer Doelman, at Douglas, grow black peas for seed production for the forage market. The peas are also used as a milk booster for cows and are sold across Eastern Ontario. However, the peas don’t stand well on their own and easily fall to the ground, making them tough to harvest.
The Doelmans have been experimenting intercropping other crops with the peas to give them a lattice to climb. Five years ago, they tried growing peas and oats together, but they had trouble separating the oats from the peas.
Last year, they tried canola with great results. The process of growing peas and canola together is known as peaola. While it is still a relatively rare idea in Ontario, peaola is the most popular intercrop in Saskatchewan, where 17,850 peaola acres are grown.
This year, the Doelmans grew 134 acres of peaola, harvesting 150 metric tonnes of peaola: 115 metric tonnes of peas and 27 metric tonnes of canola, about a quarter of an average canola yield.
However, the canola is there simply for the peas and any money made by the canola yield is used to cover the canola seed cost. But without the canola, the peas would be almost a total write-off, said Jennifer Doelman.
Some passing farmers wondered what was going on in the field. Others “texted us and was like ‘dude, you have to spray.’ ”
The crops are planted together in one pass using a John Deere air drill. Canola seeds are put in a starter fertilizer bin and are planted at the same time as the peas. Peaola is grown on fields with higher phosphorous levels to make up for the lack of starter.
The big headaches start at harvest. “If peas and canola don’t (mature) at the same time, then the peas will be dropping off, the canola will still be green, and you’ll lose your religion just trying to fight with it,” said Jennifer.
Separating the two is a two-stage process. A regular dual-stage rotary cleaner is used to take out the majority of canola. The remaining crop is run through a typical clipper-style seed cleaner for the final clean but cleaning can get onerous.
Including land costs, freight costs and the separation, the cost of production is about $375 an acre. “This is not something we can crop insure so it’s incredibly risky,” she said.
The Doelmans said while anyone could grow the two crops together, farmers would need to make sure they either have a market for the peas before starting, or else they could use it for feed. But Jennifer said the idea of intercropping is not practised enough.
“In conventional agriculture, we’re definitely missing an opportunity,” she said. “Having two or three or four crops that you can combine and put your fall wheat in afterwards, kind of like a double-crop system, I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity that people are missing out on right now.”
The return on investment can’t be accurately predicted yet, she said, adding that it might have been a better return to simply select pea genetics that stand better.
“We are having fun and from a soil health perspective and an agronomy viewpoint, I’m very excited to move from the monoculture but this is not something I’m ready to go to the bank with as anything more than an experiment,” she said. “This is more of a ‘hold my beer and watch this’ kind of crop, but we want to challenge our norms, and make sure we explore our options.”
PEAOLA: Farmers experiment with peas and canola in same field at the same time
By Tom Collins