There are increasing concerns among growers that conventional rotations in Western Australia are depleting soil nutrients. These rotations typically involve cereal-canola and continuous cereals.
The standout solution is to incorporate high value legumes – such as chickpea, lentils and faba beans – whose nitrogen-fixing roots help restore soil fertility.
These legumes have been receiving increased attention due to favourable genetic improvements. These include ascochyta resistance in chickpea, disease tolerance in faba bean; and imi-tolerance in lentil.
These improvements have driven an expansion in the area of these crops in Eastern and Southern Australia. However, uptake has lagged in WA.
A need was, therefore, identified to understand the suitability of high value pulse crops under WA soils and environments.
A three-year project was launched in 2019 with GRDC investment to develop best bet agronomic packages for growing high value pulses in WA. This investment had three strategic objectives:
- Demonstrate the agronomy and benefits of newly released pulse varieties.
- Transfer agronomic knowledge to growers and their consultants.
- Develop the next generation of pulse agronomists and researchers.
The project produced data from 35 experiments that encompassed variety choice, sowing time, weed control, disease management and nutrition. This data is available at https://www.farmtrials.com.au/.
First-hand experience of these packages was showcased at small plot trial sites that were used for extension activities and Field Days. In all, 74 extension and communication activities were delivered to over 4,300 people.
The project was undertaken as a collaborative partnership between the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA), Pulse Association of the South East (PASE); Liebe Group and Mingenew-Irwin Group (MIG); Stirlings to Coast Farmers (SCF) and Southern Dirt.
The project generated direct benefits to farmers in terms of yield improvement with the best bet agronomic practices.
The faba bean crop generated the highest marginal benefits (23 per cent) through better management of chocolate spot disease. The yield improved to 1.86 tonnes per hectare compared to the average reference yield (1.51 t/ha).
The chickpea trials generated positive net yield benefits in the fungicide trials (6 per cent), spray timing trials (25 per cent), and clean seed, and seed dressing trials (8 per cent) but not in the weedicide and inoculum trials.
The overall lentil trials enhanced yield to 2 t/ha compared to the 1.48 t/ha yield in the reference control group.
The project is expected to generate significant total benefits worth $5.21 million, primarily due to adopting better agronomic practices and changing production technology. These benefits outweigh the $2.45 million cost of investment.
This economic analysis was performed at the Centre for Agricultural Economics and Development at the University of Western Australia by Dr Maria Fay Rola-Rubzen, Dr Marit Kragt and Dr Asjad Sheikh.
It further revealed a Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) of 2.13. The BCR includes the direct costs to farmers of adopting ‘best bet’ practices.
Overall, this amounts to an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) on investment of 14 per cent and a Modified Internal Rate of Return (MIRR) of 8 per cent.
Additionally, these returns were achieved with unfavourable market conditions that included:
- low prices of chickpeas;
- limited markets for faba beans;
- tariffs imposed by India resulting in curtailed markets for chickpeas;
- limited markets for faba beans; and
- a significantly higher price of canola (a competing crop) relative to pulse crop prices.
Under an ideal situation (where markets and prices are favourable), the relative profitability of pulses would be higher and drive higher adoption rates. Under these more ideal conditions, the BCR would rise to 4.4, resulting in IRR and MIRR increase to 39 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.
More information: Delivering impact case studies.