Fava beans: A new multipurpose crop for New England

2015 Annual Report for GNE14-078

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Masoud Hashemi
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Fava beans: A new multipurpose crop for New England


SARE annual report- December 2015





Fava beans is a cool season legume crop with high nutrition values and has the potential to be grown as a new cash crop in Northeastern U.S. It can be seeded as early as mid-March and harvested in time for growing another cash crop. Fava beans also can be grown after harvesting spring planted cash crop and be used as cover crop. Fava beans have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen under various environmental conditions, acts as a break crop in crop rotation, and provide feed to pollinators and beneficial insects.  We propose to demonstrate the feasibility of growing fava beans in Massachusetts and determine basic information suitable to Massachusetts condition including, varieties, time of planting, seeding rate and to demonstrate the feasibility of transplanting Fava Beans to ensure its early planting. Also, the nitrogen contribution of Fava Beans to subsequent each crop will be assessed.


Fava Beans is known to have high concentration of L-Dopa which is currently used for remediation of Parkinson disease. The concentration and accumulation trend of L-Dopa in various parts of Fava Beans including roots, stems, terminal buds and seeds will be determined. A guide for growers of Fava Beans that covers major agronomic practices will be published. Also, a cost-income analysis to determine the profitability of double cropping fava beans with another cash crop will be performed. Educational and outreach include web-based factsheets and videos posted on the Center for Agriculture, Food, and Environment University of Massachusetts.







Objectives/Performance Targets

The main objective of this study is to collect and disseminate technical information to support growers in New England to include Fava Beans in their cropping system. This project will evaluate and promote the multiple benefits of growing fava beans as a new cash crop for New England.


We will:


(1) Demonstrate the feasibility of growing fava beans and its use as multi-purpose crop


(2) Provide basic information and agronomic practices including varieties, time of planting, method of planting and seeding rate suitable to Massachusetts climate condition


(3) Feasibility of transplanting fava beans as an alternative method to direct seeding to ensure early planting


(4) Assess contribution of nitrogen from fava beans to succeeding cash crop


(5) Determining amount and distribution of L-dopa in plant parts during the growing season


(6) Perform cost-income analysis of growing multi-purpose fava beans.


This project contained two major phases during 2014 and 2015 growing seasons which conducted at the University of Massachusetts Crops and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. For date and method of planting, row spacing, seed size, treatments included type of planting (direct seeding, transplanting), date of planting (March 30 Direct, April 15 and 30 transplant). Plots were consisted of 2 rows which are 2.5 feet wide and 25 feet long. Windsor variety grew on April 1st and 15th in green house for transplanting on April 15th and 30th, respectively. For N contribution of Fava Beans residue, we used plants located outside of the final harvest area of April 1st date of planting. Fava beans carefully digged out, washed, chopped and mixed thoroughly to provide a uniform residue mix.The half of residues incorporated (for conventional planting systems) and the other half left on the soil (for No-till planting systems). Sixty mesh bags filled with 200 g of fresh chopped residues. Thirty bags left on soil surface and the other thirty bags placed at the depth of 15 cm. for evaluating fava beans genotypes, eight varieties planted in field to evaluate morphology, yield performance, and sensitivity to chocolate spot diseases of eight varieties; Aquadulce, CPE-6926 Bell Bean, Early Violetto, Delle Cascine, Early White, VBE-2210 D’Aquadulce, Sweet Lorane, and Windsor. Fava beans seeds planted in the green house on April 1st and transplanted into the main field 10 days later. Some morphological characteristics including, time of first flowering, pod formation, height of plants, and height of first pod from ground, determined. Yield and yield components also determined based on harvesting 20 Sqft from center of the rows. Susceptibility to chocolate bacteria scouted at the flowering stage prior to pod formation. Economic analysis, based on seed cost will be assessed. Extra rows of transplants considered in April 1st planting time to measure L-Dopa content in different plant organs and its accumulation trend over time from vegetative stage to full maturity.



Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

1- Row spacing and Plant Population:


Prior to this project, in a preliminary experiment we concluded that population of 28,000-30,000 plants per acre was the optimum/economical number of plants for growing fava bean in Massachusetts condition. In this project while we kept the population constant (28,000) we compared traditional wide rows versus narrow rows spacing.


The results indicated that narrower rows (15”) yielded 15% higher than wider rows spacing (30”). This could partly be attributed to the fewer lateral branches produced in 15” rows. Plants grown in 30” row spacing produced more lateral branches with fewer pods compared with main stem (Table 1).   




2-Date of Planting and seed size:


In general, the earlier the planting fava beans, the better performance and higher pod yield. Our preliminary on-farm demonstrations showed that mid-March was the best time for direct seeding fava bean into the field. However, in all two years during grant period, the land was covered by snow in March and was not workable.


Results from this project clearly indicated that fava beans must be planted as early as soil is workable in spring. As table 2 shows, average two years, two weeks delay in planting reduced pod fresh yield by approximately 40%. The yield reduction was mainly attributed to 35% fewer pods and 30% lighter seeds in later planting time. 


Traditionally, growers buy fava bean seeds as mixed. We hypothesized that if farmers harvest the lower pods that produce larger seeds and then save the upper pods which often produce smaller seeds for their next growing season it will save them a significant amount of money in seed purchase. The results of this project indicated that crop yield was reduced significantly as seed size reduced (table 2). We concluded only second harvest pods which have medium size seeds can be saved for the next season.




3-Variety Trial and Seed Size:




Traditionally recommended population is estimated as weight not as a count. We found a significant difference between fava beans varieties in regard to seed size. Currently, Windsor is the main variety available to the growers in New England.  However, Windsor is considered large-seeded variety and on average there are 275 seeds per pound. Considering a population density of 30,000 plants per acre and the current seed cost ($3.25/pound), growers must spend roughly $350 per acre to purchase seeds which seems not reasonable.


We evaluated seven varieties of fava beans with various seed size in addition to Windsor variety in a two-year trial to find whether smaller seed size varieties perform as good as or better than Windsor. We concluded that small seeds such as Bell bean or Sweet Lorane yield less than larger seeds. However, some varieties such as Early white, Aquadulce which have considerably smaller seeds than Windsor performed much better and out yielded Windsor which is the only variety available for growers in New England (Table 3).






4-Methods of Planting:




Fava bean traditionally is planted directly into the field. However, in many years, early direct seeding may not be possible due to soil and weather conditions. We hypothesized that growing fava bean in the greenhouse and transplant them into the main field may be used as an alternative method of planting to guarantee early planting of fava bean.




Our results indicated that early transplanting (April 15) produced higher yield than direct seeding only in years that soil condition is not workable and planting is delayed(such as in 2014).  However, when soil condition was workable (such as in 2015), direct seeding out-yielded transplanting method by roughly 15%. Moreover, as transplanting delayed, pod yield reduced dramatically (Table 4).








5-Nitrogen Contribution of Fava bean to Succeeding Sweet corn:




As a legume crop, fava bean residues are rich in nitrogen which is gradually released into soil through microbial activity and will be available to the next crop.




In this project we planted fava bean in three dates in August. We hypothesized that growers can harvest some of the pods in October and the residues will serve as a legume cover crop until it winter kills. We also assumed that the earlier fava bean is planted in August the larger plants will be and therefore more nitrogen will be produced. Results showed that:



    1. a) Fava bean did not produce harvestable pod in none of the August planting dates.


    1. b) Fava bean residues contributed significant amount of N to the succeeding crop (sweet corn). We found that nitrogen contribution to sweet corn was as much as 50 lbs per acre. Sweet corn planted into fava bean residues plus 50 pound nitrogen produced as much as sweet corns that received 100 pounds of nitrogen.





6- Determining amount and distribution of L-dopa in plant parts during the growing season




Concentration of L-Dopa is often measured in seeds while other parts of plants may accumulate significant amounts of this chemical. The accumulation of L-Dopa in different plant organs of fava beans was studied in the field and controlled environment. In field condition, fava beans were harvested at six-leaf stage and when pods were fully grown.  Plant parts were digested separately and analyzed for L-Dopa concentration using HPLC. The contents of L-Dopa in plant parts were in the following order;


seedlings> leaves > terminal buds > seeds > roots > stems with 13.3, 10.5, 9.5, 7.2, 6.5, 3.5 mg g-1, respectively (Table 6).  Accumulation of L-Dopa from germination until 10-leaf stage in eight varieties of fava beans was studied in greenhouse. All varieties had their peak concentration of L-Dopa between 2-4 leaf stages followed by a declining trend. Delle Cascine and Bell bean varieties had the most and the least concentrations of L-Dopa by 10.89 and 7.56 mg g-1 respectively (Table 7).








Since only 25% of the experiment is not yet completed, “economical analysis” and “evaluation among seven varieties for their morphology and susceptibility to the chocolate bacteria” will be presented in final report.


The experimental site was used as on-farm demonstration in field days of Crops, Dairy, and livestock as well as vegetable teams, UMass extension in summer 2015. Other outreach activities include, generating a guide “Fava Beans; Growers guide in New England”, posted on , Dairy, and livestock website:






and also an educational videos posted on YouTube.com, to assist growers in more sustainable and economical production of Fava beans:




Masoud Hashemi

[email protected]
Extention professor faculy member
Bowditch hall, 201 Natural resources rd
Amherst, MA 01003
Office Phone: 4134783897