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.”