Queensland grower Colin Dunne is counting the benefits of planting a third annual crop.
PHOTO: Clarisa Collis
In the Central Highlands region, about 120 kilometres west of Rockhampton, a penchant for pulses sees Central Queensland grower Colin Dunne able to count the gross margin gains of three high-value crops in just one financial year.
Colin says the shift from the northern convention of planting two grain crops a year in good seasonal conditions – a summer and a winter crop – to also planting a third summer crop before Christmas has allowed for a step-change in the profitability of his family’s 12,000-hectare farm business at Duaringa.
Allowing for this lucrative advance in the frequency of their cropping cycle across 2250ha, in which they can consecutively plant mungbeans, chickpeas and mungbeans, is a winning combination of agronomic factors and high commodity prices.
Specifically, these key elements are the relatively short growing season for mungbeans, Central Queensland’s wide pulse sowing window, and high average prices for both chickpeas and mungbeans.
Illustrating the benefits of each of these factors, Colin says it is the quick turnaround for mungbeans, which have a growing season spanning 90 days, that enables him to sow three crops over 12 months. Compared with sorghum and maize, which have a growing season of about 120 to 180 days, mungbeans free up about 30 to 90 days a year.
Assisting the Dunnes to capitalise on this extra time is flexibility in the time of sowing for mungbeans from late August to mid March, and also in planting chickpeas from mid April to early July, provided there is adequate moisture in the soil profile.
Although there are only enough days in the calendar year to harvest two crops, the third mungbean crop, harvested early the following year, nevertheless adds to the family’s farm business gross margins in the year they were sown.
For example, their 750ha mungbean crop harvested in May yielded between 1 and 1.5 tonnes per hectare at an average of $1200 a tonne, and their 1600ha chickpea crop is expected to yield about 3t/ha, apart from 200ha affected by the wet weather. In mid-September, chickpeas were earning $900/t.
Putting this profitability into perspective, Colin says that in contrast with other lower-value, high-volume summer and winter crops, pulses are a more cost-effective option requiring a lighter workload (because of the lower yield) for a higher return. For example, sorghum typically yields about 3.5t/ha and averages $160/t on the Dunnes’ property. Their mungbeans yield about half this grain volume and seven times the price. In addition to the higher returns, Colin says the lower volume of grain involved means a lighter workload when it comes to harvesting, storage and transport.
Then comes the opportunity to plant mungbeans twice in 12 months, further doubling these gains – 1000ha seeded to one sorghum crop earns about $560,000, while 1000ha seeded to two mungbean crops earns about $3.6 million.
However, Colin adds: “Even though it’s more profitable to grow pulses, sooner or later we need to introduce wheat, sorghum or maize in rotation to reduce disease risk.”
Growing mungbeans and chickpeas for 15 years, Colin says a succession of new variety releases delivered through GRDC-funded pre-breeding programs have lifted the overall productivity and profitability of his pulse program. He estimates varietal improvements have increased chickpea yields on his property by about 1t/ha and increased mungbean yields by about 0.5t/ha.
Other on-farm benefits stemming from R&D that have helped to secure pulses as mainstay crops in his northern farming system are better tolerance to disease and insect damage and improved bean quality, he says.
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GRDC Project Code
DAN00151, DAN00212, DAQ00172