Pulses prove to be a versatile rotation option

Pulses among the great Australian cropping success stories of the 21st century

Crops
Chickpea breeder Kristy Hobson with PBA Seamer plants at Tamworth Agricultural Institute.

Chickpea breeder Kristy Hobson with PBA Seamer plants at Tamworth Agricultural Institute.

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During the past couple of decades, Australian pulse varieties have rapidly improved.

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Pulses have been among the great Australian cropping success stories of the 21st century.

From the chickpea and lentil booms of 2016-17, due to Indian demand, through to last years run on faba beans, many farm businesses have recorded excellent returns from pulse crops.

The crops have provided strength to rural communities, with associated processing plants and marketing businesses springing up in the heart of rich legume growing areas such as the Mid North and Yorke Peninsulas in South Australia and the Wimmera in Victoria.

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Some concerted effort from pulse breeders has seen new and improved varieties developed.

Janine Sounness, of PB Seeds, who will market the Hurricane line, thinks there will be a good uptake for the variety.

Janine Sounness, of PB Seeds, who will market the Hurricane line, thinks there will be a good uptake for the variety.

The chickpea industry is wholly rejuvenated, after being brought to its knees in the late 1990s by ascochyta blight, due to varieties with resistance from the fungal disease.

Graham Spackman, GRDC Northern panel member and agronomist at Emerald in Central Queensland, says chickpea cultivars had come along in leaps and bounds.

Over the past couple of decades the varieties have improved out of sight, he says.

Twenty years ago they were short-statured, the seed was darker than the market wanted and there was obviously the disease pressure.

The improvements have changed the nature of farming in my region.

"Chickpeas were used as a rotational crop in among wheat, sorghum and sunflower plantings, but now it could be argued the other crops are the break for chickpeas.

During the past couple of decades the varieties have improved out of sight. - GRDC Northern Panel member Graham Spackman

New varieties have helped kick along the lentil industry. Late last year a new IMI-tolerant lentil was released in Victoria.

Hallmark XT is the next generation after the popular Hurricane line.

Like its predecessor, Hallmark is a red lentil with improved tolerance to Group B herbicides, but the new variety brings higher yield and better early vigour.

Janine Sounness, PB Seeds, who will market the line, expects a good uptake for the variety.

In trials across major lentil-producing regions in Victoria, South Australia and NSW, Hallmark consistently outyielded Hurricane, getting better results in 11 out of 12 trials.

The seed size is medium, compared with Hurricane, small to medium, which may provide growers with alternative marketing options.

Ms Sounness said the lentil was suited to the Upper Yorke Peninsula and Mid North in South Australia and the Wimmera-Mallee region in Victoria. And it could be grown successfully through lower rainfall zones in the Mallee and in southern NSW.

Ms Sounness said the plant, disease-wise, had a good package, with high levels of resistance to botrytis grey mould (BGM) and moderate ascochyta resistance.

Ascochyta and BGM are the most damaging diseases to lentils.

On the chickpea front, CQ growers last year saw the release of PBA Drummond, a desi-type chickpea, which is high yielding and has good disease-resistanceand can be planted deep.

Research shows the value of chickpea breeding. A report prepared for Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, on chickpea industry growth from 2001 to 2018, found chickpea research programs in Queensland and NSW alone delivered about $16 of benefits for every $1 invested.

The report showed the $55 million investment in chickpea research by the GRDC and the Queensland and NSW governments over the past decade had returned about $876 million to industry.

National production rose from an average of 300,000 tonnes in 2005 to a high of 1.3 million tonnes in 2016-17.

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