Grain growers considering diversifying into pulse crops in non-traditional production areas of Victoria and South Australia are being supported through a new Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) initiative.
The Southern Pulse Extension project is a GRDC investment that aims to provide growers and their advisers with the information and resources they need to make informed decisions and maximise production and income potential from pulses.
At the core of the project is the establishment of nine “Pulse Check” discussion groups across Victoria (Mallee, North Central and North-East) and SA (lower Eyre Peninsula, central EP, upper EP, Upper North, Mallee and Upper South-East).
The Pulse Check groups will meet at least four times a year over the coming two years to discuss issues relating to pulse crop production, management and marketing. They are focused on a “back to basics” approach to lentil and chickpea production through practical in-field learning and group discussion.
Each group consists of growers and advisers with varying experience in production of lentils or chickpeas. Those with no or limited experience are particularly encouraged to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn from more experienced growers in their region and experts in the industry.
GRDC Manager of Systems and Agronomy – South, Andrew Etherton, says pulse production is expanding into non-traditional growing areas of the southern cropping region, necessitating the provision of tailored support for first-time growers.
“In recent years we have seen more and more cereal growers venture into pulses,” Mr Etherton says.
“As an indication of that trend, the area sown to lentils in SA low rainfall zones has grown from 3800 hectares in 2013 to an estimated 27,000 ha in 2017. Chickpea plantings have increased from 3100 ha to 13,800 ha over the same period.
“However, many of the growers in these low rainfall areas and other non-primary areas of production have little or no experience with these crops, so the Southern Pulse Extension project aims is to equip them and advisers with the regionally-specific agronomic information they need – much of which has been generated out of the Southern Pulse Agronomy program – for informed decision-making.”
Mr Etherton says pulses, especially lentils, are a high-value crop but the financial returns are not the only incentive for novice growers: “These legumes are valuable break crops for cereal rotations, add nitrogen to the soil, spread production risk, add diversity to a grower’s marketing options and drive increased sustainability within farming systems.
“To ensure growers realise the potential long-term farming system and financial benefits of pulse crops, it is important they have a good grasp of pulse production fundamentals, including paddock selection, choosing the most suitable varieties to grow, seeding and row spacing, crop nutrition, pest and disease control, weed management, desiccation and harvesting, grain quality, storage and marketing.”
Mr Etherton says the Pulse Check groups will not only provide growers with a competent understanding of best management practice for these crops, but advisers with limited knowledge of pulse crop agronomy will also acquire the skills and knowledge to support pulse crop expansion into new areas.
Much of the information to be delivered to growers and advisers through the Pulse Check groups initiative has been generated out of the GRDC’s Southern Pulse Agronomy program.
Led by Agriculture Victoria pulse agronomist Dr Jason Brand, Southern Pulse Agronomy has made a significant contribution to the rise in pulse production across the southern region. Improvements in crop agronomy and development of management practices that aim to ensure the long-term profitability of pulses for the region’s growers are drivers for the increased interest in and expansion of chickpea and lentil production.
Also funded by Agriculture Victoria and the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Southern Pulse Agronomy is integrated with Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA), assisting with germplasm enhancement programs for the delivery of new varieties that are well suited to growers’ evolving farming systems. Southern Pulse Agronomy has trial sites spread throughout SA and Victoria, but most of these are located in established pulse production areas.
Mr Etherton says the Pulse Check groups under the Southern Pulse Extension Project have been set up in pulse crop expansion zones and attached to farming systems groups to fill that regional extension void. The first round of Pulse Check meetings have already been held to discuss harvest-related practices and issues.
The groups are facilitated by representatives from farming systems organisations, Riverine Plains Inc, Mallee Sustainable Farming, MacKillop Farm Management Group, Birchip Cropping Group, Lower Eyre Agricultural Development Association and Upper North Farming Systems, as well as Rural Directions and Ag Excellence Alliance.
A Southern Pulse Extension steering committee, comprising representatives from the GRDC, Pulse Australia, Southern Pulse Agronomy, agribusiness and the adviser community, has been established to guide the initiative.
Steering committee chairman Bill Long, an agricultural consultant and former GRDC Southern Regional Panel member, says the Pulse Check initiative has already been well received by growers considering production of high-value pulse crops.
“Attendances at meetings have been very pleasing, reflecting the demand and need for GRDC investment in a program such as this,” Mr Long said. “The concept is not a new one – previous Lentil Check programs for example have been very successful in transferring knowledge to growers moving into new crop types – so it’s a formula that we know works.
“I’m confident that the Southern Pulse Extension project will over the next two years deliver tangible results for growers and advisers who are keen to build their knowledge and understanding of the key aspects of lentil and chickpea production.”