Over the last 5-10 years we have seen farmers and their advisors experimenting with grain legume crops in the low rainfall Mallee. The reasons for this shift are:
- The decline of livestock (sheep) numbers – more land available for crop.
- The need for a break crop - cereal root diseases such as rhizoctonia, CCN, pratylenchus, etc.
- The requirement for increasing soil nitrogen levels with the introduction of higher yielding cereal varieties.
- The increasing grass levels (particularly brome grass) with no-till farming and the need for multi year grass break options.
- The increased demand for some grain legumes, as reflected in very high prices, and the dramatic improvement in gross margins for grain legumes compared to cereals.
- Better understanding, knowledge and agronomy available for the range of grain legumes.
- Improved varieties with adaptation for low rainfall, yield, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, etc.
Grain legumes offer significant benefits through improved yield and quality in subsequent cereal crops. Nevertheless grain legumes crops are a higher risk cropping option than cereals. The risks posed by grain legumes can be broken down to three areas. Each form of risk must be addressed or at least thought through before growing grain legume crops. The levels of risk change each season and so it’s a good thing to get advice from your grain broker and agronomist to minimise, or at least understand and mitigate, risks and take advantage of the benefits of legumes when conditions allow.
Briefly the three different types of risk are:
- Agronomic Risk – Can I grow them? Do I know how to grow them? Where do I grow them?
- Operational Risk – How do grain legumes fit in my operation and equipment?
- Market Risk – Can I sell them? Who to? Do I need to store them? How do I store them?
New introduced varieties of medic in the 1950’s improved cereal yield through fixed nitrogen and provided high quality sheep feed. The cereal – medic rotation has been the mainstay in the Mallee and for many still is; medics fix nitrogen, they don’t require reseeding every year - they regenerate well, medics are low cost and input, and are low risk.
The Mallee, until recently, has been seen as too risky for grain legumes because of low and uncertain yields. Also legumes stubbles can leave the land exposed to high erosion risk on light Mallee soils. However, agronomic packages for grain legumes are improving and giving good control of broadleaf and grass, as well as a nitrogen boost.
Grain legumes have produced a number of improvements to Mallee farm incomes through increased yields in subsequent cereals through root disease control, grass weed control and increased soil nitrogen. In some cases grain legumes, in the last few seasons, have produced better gross margins than livestock or cereals. Nevertheless the risks of growing grain legumes need to be understood and mitigated.
If you would like to talk to an agronomist about your pulse options in the Mallee, please call Richard on 0488 078 451.