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Alternative Field Crops Manual


E.S. Oplinger1, D.H. Putnam2, J.D. Doll1, and S.M. Combs1

1Depts. of Agronomy and Soil Science, Cooperative Extension Service and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI 53706.
2Dept. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108. Nov. 1989.

I. History:

Fababean is an annual legume known botanically as Vicia faba L. The crop is known by many names, most of which refer to a particular subgroup rather than the whole species. Common names for fababean include the large-seeded broadbeans or windsorbeans (Vicia faba var. major), horsebeans (Vicia Faba var. equina), and the small, round-oval seeded tickbean or pigeon bean (Vicia faba var. minor). The varieties grown in Manitoba are small to medium in seed size and belong to the minor and equina group. Fababeans are a versatile speciality crop that has proven itself to many Manitoba, Canada farmers in the past 15 years. In 1988 there was over 122,000 acres of fababeans produced in Manitoba.

II. Uses:

A. Livestock Feed:

The fababean does not possess any components toxic to animal or man. It is possible to feed the bean to all types of livestock or poultry provided it is cracked or crushed. No further processing is required. Canadian research showed no significant difference in milk production when cows were fed grain rations containing either fababeans or soybean meal as the protein supplement. Studies indicate that the dry matter digestibility of fababeans is somewhat lower than soybean meal and solubility of the protein is also lower in fababeans as compared to soybean meal. The fiber is higher and fat lower in fababeans versus soybean meal. The fababean is about 25% protein, and is higher in energy than soybean (Table 1). Most results suggest that substituting two parts of fababean for one part soybean and one part cereal grain gives equal or better rates of gain.

Table 1: Comparative nutrient content of fababean, barley and soybean meal.



Barley grain

Soybean meal

% dry matter

Crude protein




Digestible protein




















B. Forage/Silage:

Fababean plants make high quality silage. Swathing should take place when the lowest seed pods begin blackening. The swath should be left to wilt for one to three days.

In a three-year experiment in Rosemont, MN, horsebeans sown at 180 lbs/a produced 4,370 lbs/a of dry forage containing 10.5% protein. A mixture of 60 lbs horsebeans and 64 lbs oats produced 5,613 lbs/a of dry forage containing 10.1% protein. This and other data suggest that an oat/fababean mixture for silage might be superior in production of protein per acre than oats alone.

C. Human Food:

The seed coat of fababean requires more chewing than that of the common baked bean varieties used in the United States, but the seed can be baked after it is softened in water. The large broadbean seeds are often preferred; the seed coats are often removed by hand before eating. Skinned beans are cooked, salted, and used for sandwich filling in North Africa. In Egypt and other Mid-Eastern countries, fababean is eaten as a staple food by many strata of the society, and the increasing population of Middle-Eastern people in the U.S. may be a potential market for fababeans.

III. Growth Habits:

Fababeans are small-seeded relatives of the garden broad bean. The plant flowers profusely but only a small proportion of the flowers produce pods. The fababean is very cold hardy, but cannot take excessive heat during flowering. As fababeans mature, the lower leaves darken and drop, pods turn black and dry progressively up the stem. Fababeans tend to shatter if left standing until maturity.

IV. Environment Requirements:

This annual legume grows best under cool, moist conditions. Hot, dry weather is injurious to the crop, so early planting is important. Medium textured soils are ideally suited for fababean production since the, crop requires a good moisture supply for optimum yields. Fababeans do not tolerate standing water.

Fababeans are slow (20+ days) to emerge and seeds must be in constant contact with moisture until seedlings are well established. The time from seeding to harvest ranges from 80 to 120 days. Fababeans are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen, which results in increased residual soil nitrogen for use by subsequent crops. Fababeans should be grown only once every four years in the same field to avoid a build-up of soil-borne diseases. Their susceptibility to diseases which are common in rapeseed and in sunflower limits their place in a crop rotation with other specialty crops.

V. Cultural Practices:

A. Seedbed Preparation:

For best results a good seedbed should be prepared, to insure good soil to seed contact. Since fababeans are slow emergers, time spent in preparing a good seedbed will help reduce problems with fababean and with early weed control.

B. Seeding Date:

Plant early in April if weather and soil conditions permit.1 Yields are reduced significantly when planting is delayed to late May. Fababeans grow best under cool moist conditions; the seedlings are frost tolerant, but cannot tolerate heat during flowering. They are a legume and must be inoculated with specific inoculant to promote nitrogen fixation.

C. Method and Rate of Seeding:

Fababeans, which can be grown as a cultivated row crop or as a non-cultivated narrow-row crop like small grains, respond favorably to narrow row spacing. Yields in 7-inch rows were 4200 lb/a, in 14-inch rows 3000 and in 28-inch rows 2000 lb/a in a 2-year study conducted in Upper Michigan; similar results were found in a Minnesota study. In a study ranging from 80 to 300 lb/a, the optimum seeding rate was 160 lb/a when planted in 7-inch rows. Although high rates of sowing and narrow rows tend to produce higher yields, seed cost is an important restriction to optimum seeding rate. Planting depth is critical, since the hard, dry seed takes longer to absorb water and germinate than does common bean. Deep planting (2.5-4.0 inches) is necessary to get the seed below the surface so it doesn't dry out.

D. Fertility and Lime Requirements:

Legumes require neutral to alkaline soil for maximum N fixation by nodule bacteria. Soils should be tested and, if necessary, limed to at least pH 6.0. bolomitic limestone would need to be applied at least one year prior to fababean production.

Soils need to have P and K soil test levels in the medium to high range to ensure adequate fertility levels for maximum crop yields. These soil test levels are at least 11 ppm P and 81 ppm K depending on subsoil category. Soils should be tested and, if necessary, amended with P2O5 and/or K2O prior to seeding.

Nutrients equivalent to crop removal should be applied annually in order to maintain adequate soil test levels. Fababean is similar in growth requirements and yields to canning peas. Therefore maintenance P2O5 and K2O fertilizer in Table 2 is based on that necessary for canning peas planted in 7-inch rows. If top growth is removed for silage, higher applications are needed. Some N may be needed to ensure a good start since fababean is a shallow rooted annual legume planted very early. Table 2 also gives recommended N rates dependent on both crop yield and soil organic matter content.

Table 2: Annual nitrogen, phosphate, and potash recommendations for fababean.

Grain yield




Soil organic matter %

Low (<=5)

High (>=5)


lb N/A

lb P2O5/A

lb K2O/A
















E. Variety Selection:

The fababean variety "Outlook" was developed at the Univ. of Saskachewan, Saskatoon and licensed by Agric. Canada in 1981, and has performed well in Minnesota trials. "Petite" tickbean, a small-seeded fababean, was released by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1976; and "Minnesota" horsebean was released by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1968. Fababean varieties recommended for Manitoba are: Ackerperle, Aladin, Herz Freya, Outlook and Pegasus. One source of seed is the Manitoba Pool Elevators, Pembina & Perimeter, Winnipeg, Man. R3T 2E7.

F. Weed Control:

  1. Cultural and Mechanical: Fababeans are poor competitors with weeds, particularly in the seedling stage. This makes integrated weed control essential for successful crop production. Select fields with light weed pressure. Do the primary tillage several weeks before planting and kill emerged weeds with shallow tillage just ahead of planting. Consider rotary hoeing fields 7 to 10 days after planting and use a row cultivator if rows are 20 inches or more apart.
  2. Chemical: At the present time no herbicides are labeled for use on fababeans in Wisconsin or Minnesota.

G. Diseases and their Control:

No information available.

H. Insects and Other Predators and their Control:

Leaf hoppers and gray blister beetles have damaged trials in Minnesota. Black aphids can attack plants occasionally, but these are usually confined to a few plants, while plants a few feet away are not affected. Bean beetles will occasionally lay eggs in the flowers or young pods and the larvae bore into the young seeds as they pupate. The economic impact of these pests in Minnesota and Wisconsin is largely unknown and insecticides are not currently cleared for use on fababeans in the U.S.A.

I. Harvesting:

Swathing should begin when the lowest two bunches of pods begin blackening or when most seed easily detaches from the hilum. At this stage the moisture content of the beans is from 35 to 45%. Swathing in this moisture range provides the highest bulk density and 1000-kernel weight. The high moisture content requires a fairly long drying period in the swath, so it is advisable to lay a fairly light swath. Swathing fababeans is usually not difficult. In severely lodged crops, a pickup reel is quite effective. Low cylinder speeds of 300 to 500 revolutions per minute are recommended to minimize bean splitting and cracking, although the seed resists splitting and injury more than common bean.

J. Drying and Storage:

Rapid drying at high temperatures often causes stress cracks. The maximum moisture content for a "straight grade" of fababeans is 16%.

VI. Yield Potential and Performance Results:

Seed yields at Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Stations have averaged 1521 lbs/a in dryland (12 year/location average) and 2261 lbs/a under irrigation (6 year/location average). Much higher and lower yields have been observed on individual plots, crude protein percentage has ranged from 27 to 32%.

VII. Economics of Production and Markets:

Although the seed is used as a human food in other parts of the world (Europe, North Africa, Middle East), the markets for this use in the United States are negligible. The primary use in North America is as an animal feed, and as such, the cash market is poorly developed. The primary markets will include farmers or local feed dealers, and for use on-farm in animal production systems.

VIII. Information Sources:


1Fababeans should be planted as early as possible in the spring. One Canadian study showed a 1% yield reduction for each day planting delay in April, and a 2% reduction after April.