Dust storms and fava beans

The 1930s are also known as the 'Dirty Thirties'. It was a period of severe drought that hit the ecology and economy of the American and Canadian Midwest hard. Then, in the mid-1980s, the area was again crippled by drought. “Everybody lost half of their net worth or more,” Richard Roland of Crosby (North Dakota, USA) says.

Prompted by the 1980s downturn, Roland wondered what het could do about the fallow-cropping regimen. Normally a farmer would allow his (or her) fields to recuperate after successive planting, growing and reaping by leaving it empty. But empty fields in a continued dry period also feed the feared dust storms.

Roland realised that certain species of plants could be propagated in the fallow fields with minimal input and they had added benefits of replenishing nutrients in the soil. Those are so-called fallow crops, and legumes are some of the favorite types used. He then created Legume Logic in 1991, which played a role in developing field peas for North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota.

“We later found out that field peas were grown in the Yellowstone River Valley and the Red River Valley in the 1940s,” he says. “So you could say we reintroduced field peas to the Northern Plains.”
Later, Legume Logic turned its attention to ancient fava beans (Vicia faba), but at first they didn’t grow well, but now climate change has happened. It’s been raining in Crosby and peas don’t like wet feet. It stops their air flow and they need air to fix nitrogen. Fava beans, on the other hand, handle the water better and they don’t get the root diseases peas do. “They are higher nitrogen fixers than peas,” Roland says. “They fix nitrogen through the flowering period. They’re deeper-rooted so they take moisture longer.”
Legume Logic should have enough to supply 6,000 to 8,000 acres for commercial growers in 2016. Which also means that dust storms can be thwarted. A bit.

Let's hope that Red River Commodities is also considering processing fava beans. The more the merrier.

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