The world of Canadian pulses just got more competitive thanks to the work of the Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC). At its February meeting held in Winnipeg, Man., the PGDC’s Prairie Recommending Committee for Pulses & Special Crops (PRCPSC) voted to go “low vicine.” Moving forward, breeders of faba beans will need proof that their faba bean line contains low vicine levels in order to enter into faba bean trials.

“It’s pretty significant,” says PRCPSC chair Glen Hawkins, who also serves as seed production manager and pulse breeder for DL Seeds. “We thought it a good way to brand Canadian faba beans. As we move more into pulse-based food and food products, safety is always at the forefront.”

Vicine — and a related compound called convicine — is toxic to people who, due to genetic factors, lack an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. Consuming vicine and convicine in high quantities can cause anemia in these individuals.

“The thought is as we get more into processing of pulses, when you concentrate protein and starch, you concentrate vicine and convicine as a result. A few years ago, the request was made that we look to adopt a low vicine background in all faba beans,” Hawkins says. It’s smart to go low vicine across the board, he notes. “Faba beans are an outcrossing crop, so if you have a vicine-containing line down the road and some bees around, you get outcrossing to the low vicine lines.”

As a result of the decision, in the next five to seven years, Canada’s faba bean acreage on the Prairies will consist of 100% low vicine lines, Hawkins says. It’s the kind of big picture thinking that’s becoming more prevalent as the agricultural industry in Canada looks to become even more competitive on a global scale, a theme that was evident at this year’s PGDC meetings.

PGDC chair Mitchell Japp said the importance of the connection between breeding innovation and agronomic adaptation was a crucial thought in designing this year’s plenary session. “It’s crucial to draw the connections between those two worlds,” Japp says. “Profitability and sustainability are well connected.”

Going on across the street right before the PGDC meeting this year was the 9th Canadian Barley Symposium, where a major topic of discussion was the need to increase communication among stakeholders to ensure better variety uptake. “That’s big,” Japp says. “That communication between end users, the seed industry, and farmers has been lacking. We saw a failure there with CDC Meredith, where it ramped up in acres and then collapsed because end users felt it didn’t meet their needs. If we can get those lines of communication open, we don’t have the same level of risk involved in ramping up varieties in terms of making them available to both seed growers and producers.”