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The Legume Variety Testing Program with Sarah Hallyburton

Posted by Blythe Howell | August 17, 2020

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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Sarah Hallyburton. Sarah is a Master’s student in the Soil Sciences program. She received her undergraduate degree in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture from WSU. She is working with Doctor Steve Van Vleet, Whitman County Regional Extensions Specialist. Sarah’s research is evaluating the performance of winter and spring pea varieties in certified organic and non-organic production systems. In addition, she is evaluating the soil microbial communities in the different systems and varieties. Sarah is from Kennewick, Washington, and hopes to pursue a career in extension. Hello Sarah.

Sarah Hallyburton: Hi Drew. Great to be here.

Drew Lyon: So, what is the Washington State Legume Variety Testing program, and what is the goal of the program?

Sarah Hallyburton: The Legume Variety Testing program is a subsection of the Small Grains Testing program here at WSU. And we grow out different pulse cultivars to evaluate the growth and agronomic traits. The goal of the program is to be able to provide that information to the growers, so that they can make informed decisions about which varieties are best suited to their specific growing situation, with all that good information. On average, we test 21 varieties of winter peas, 35 varieties of spring peas, and 14 varieties of each chickpeas and lentils every year. And then in the next few years, we’re hoping to begin trialing winter lentil varieties. And followed a few years later by winter chickpea varieties, which we’re really excited about those new winter crops coming into our program. And then of course we will get a whole bunch of different parameters for information that we can provide to the growers. And we have our set parameters that we look at, and then we also collect any other information. For example, last year we had a lot of loss to deer and elk. And we like to be able to provide all of that information that’s going to practical and useful to the growers.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, a lot like the Small Grain Variety Testing program but with legumes. Is that correct? And how long, I know it seems like they were tested at one time, and then there was a period of time where they weren’t being tested. How long has Steve been doing this and how long have you been involved in the Variety Testing Program?

Sarah Hallyburton: I have only been involved in the variety testing program since last year when I began here as a graduate student. To my knowledge, Steve has been working with Variety Testing for at least the last 5 years.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Sarah Hallyburton: But it has grown, is growing. We get more varieties every year. And working on also utilizing more locations across eastern Washington.

Drew Lyon: Okay. I know one of the issues the Small Grain Variety Testing program has is what varieties do we test? There’s a lot out there. How do you decide what varieties are going to go into the program?

Sarah Hallyburton: So, we can accept varieties from anybody that wants to participate in the program. But we mostly work on testing the most current varieties, and the varieties that we think are going to be best suited to the growers in our area and most beneficial for issues that they’re facing. Currently, we test the top varieties from North Dakota State University, Meridian Seed, the USDA, and Progene. So, we have institutional as well as private coming in. And we evaluate the information that the breeders send us on the seed, in order to choose which variety is to go ahead and put in our trials.

Drew Lyon: Okay. You seem to have some interest also in how these varieties perform both in conventional systems, as well as organic systems. Why are you interested in that performance difference? Do you see differences in those different system’s routine varieties?

Sarah Hallyburton: We absolutely see differences between organic, and I’m going to go ahead and use the word non-organic systems.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Sarah Hallyburton: We often use the term conventional. But I want to tip my hat to our wonderful collaborating farmers. Because I wouldn’t call them conventional in any sense. All of them have very innovative management strategies that we, and wonderful soil quality at a lot of these places. And so I stray away from the conventional term.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Sarah Hallyburton: Because really, what is conventional? But we want to look at those differences because it’s been shown with different crops already, that one variety that does fantastic in a nonorganic system will not be the best performing variety in an organic system. So, if we want to enable farmers to be able to grow certified organic, we need to be able to provide them with varieties that are going to perform well in that management system. And so we see a lot of different issues. We have a lot higher weed pressure in organic systems. And some of the varieties do a lot better competing with the weeds than other varieties, so that’s one of the big parameters that we’re looking at, as well as disease resistance. Because we can’t treat organic seed the same way that we treat conventional seed. Which has been a fairly large issue for us so far this year, in some of our locations having some pretty big loss to that and looking at how we could manage that organically.

Drew Lyon: So, you test the same varieties in the nonorganic and the organic? Or do you have different varieties that you’ll put into the organic test versus the nonorganic test?

Sarah Hallyburton: Right now we’re testing the same varieties in the organic and non-organic systems so that we can look at those varieties. However, the varieties that we chose, some of them were bred for more sustainable systems, lower input systems. And so we’re hoping that some of those varieties will perform better in the organic, and we’ll see a difference, we’ll see a marked difference in which varieties thrive in different environments.

Drew Lyon: So as your knowledge improves on this in the future, you may be able to decide this variety is for the organic, and this one is for non-organic?

Sarah Hallyburton: Absolutely. And you know we use those terms but really the goal of this program, and with my research working into the Variety Testing Program, is to be able to provide the growers with the information. And because everybody has a different management strategy, sometimes aspects of a variety that we say this variety does great in an organic system, you know, if a farmer is trying to use really low herbicides then maybe that variety would be best for him, if it has really good weed competition.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So you mentioned a few parameters, like competition with weeds. What are some of the other parameters you’re using to assess varietal performance?

Sarah Hallyburton: So, in the Variety Testing Program and in my research, we always do soil testing. That’s the first thing in want to bring up because that can make a big difference in how different varieties perform across locations. And particularly with pulse crops, and with peas, especially, they like a little bit higher of a pH. And we just don’t have the varieties that tolerate these really low pHs that we sometimes encounter across the Palouse. So, soil testing is key. Soil testing is number 1 or us. But then we will also look at lodging, using canopy height. We’ll look at weed competition and plant vigor like I said. And then we, for my research, not for all the Variety Testing but for some of them, we do protein content and amino acid profiles. I’ll particularly be looking at sulfur containing amino acids and comparing those values with sulfur, soil, and tissue tests. Some of those amino acids are important for the nutritional content of the peas that we’re trying to develop. And then we’re also going to use N15 isotope analysis to evaluate the efficiency of the biological nitrogen fixation. Especially in organic systems, that nitrogen fixation is a huge part of why you add the legume crops to your system. And then we were measuring disease severity and looking at that in an informal way.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And I assume yield then also. [ laughter ]

Sarah Hallyburton: Yes, absolutely straight yield, yield and yield quality. And yield versus usable yield. We have our pea weevil damage that we’ll be trying to assess the percentage of damaged seed versus whole.

Drew Lyon: So I’m kind of intrigued by this weed competitiveness. How do you measure weed competitiveness in a variety?

Sarah Hallyburton: There’s a couple of different things we’re doing and of course, there’s a lot of confounding when we have disease issues that reduce a stand, it’s going to have a harder time competing with weeds. But we look at cover, you know, percent ground cover and plant height and growth in the early season. Especially that we’re seeing they shade out. So canopy cover is a big one, and as well as stand density.

Drew Lyon: Seems like when peas really get to growing they can really compete, but when they’re small and young that’s when they’re vulnerable to those weed populations.

Sarah Hallyburton: Absolutely. And so we hope with the winters we have seen, and we’re hoping to see if we can plant early enough, if we get moisture early enough, that those winter peas will grow enough in the fall to have suppression for fall, or competitiveness for fall weeds, as well as weeds that are germinating in the springtime.

Drew Lyon: Okay. I’ll be watching for that. That’s a particular area of interest. So you mentioned earlier that peas are a pretty important component of a lot of organic systems. Can you tell our listeners why, why legumes are so important to organic systems?

Sarah Hallyburton: Legumes, you know, I think are important to any system, personally. But in organic systems, particularly out here in the Palouse, it’s all about that nitrogen. The legumes and the peas in particular can, using that biological nitrogen fixation, can add a lot of nitrogen into your system that it can be difficult and/or expensive to get into your system with other ways, organically. And then we’re also looking at breaking up disease cycles from small grain crops that are going to be your cash crop in this situation, whether that be wheat or barley. And then the weed competition, we’re really hoping breaking up weed cycles and getting cover on the ground. And the winter peas also, soil conservation, getting your ground covered over the wintertime so you’re reducing erosion losses, which tend to be potentially higher in certified organic systems that can’t use herbicides. A lot of times the result is a little bit more tillage, that’s going to lead to higher risk of erosion. And so, cover over the winter always is going to help with that.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Very good. So, where can people go to learn more about the variety, the Legume Variety Testing program?

Sarah Hallyburton: So like I said earlier, the Legume Variety Testing program is part of the Small Grains Variety Testing program, so we are on And you can see the pulse Variety Testing Program selection under the Variety Selection and testing tab. Also, if you had specific questions you can contact Steve Van Vleet through the Whitman County Extension office in Colfax.

Drew Lyon: Alright. Excellent. Well, thank you very much for your time today, Sarah.

Sarah Hallyburton: Thank you, Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s –( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

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