Finding a fit for fabas in western cropping systems
That’s according to Walgett-based agronomist Greg Rummery who said faba beans offered a number of rotational and logistical benefits including early sowing opportunities, early harvest, a disease break and water use efficiency.
Mr Rummery said faba beans compared favourably with chickpeas in terms of rotational benefits and had potential to deliver profitability benefits across the farming system.
“As long as growers employ best practice agronomic management, faba beans can be a profitable and sustainable break crop option for the central west and north west regions of NSW,” Mr Rummery said.
“Successful production will primarily hinge on sowing on suitable soil types, sowing within the recommended window, good integrated pest and disease management and well-planned harvest.
“When comparing faba beans to chickpeas, growers need to look outside the confines of annual gross margins and consider what value the crop can deliver in terms of rotational and logistical benefits within an integrated farming system.”
Faba beans provide an early plant option (April) and subsequently an earlier harvest timing (late September to mid-October), which broadens the overall windows of sowing and harvest at a farm level and enables operations to still be carried out in a timely manner for higher income crops.
Mr Rummery said paddock selection needed to be carefully considered, with faba beans able to be sown into paddocks with severe root/crown disease pressure, low nitrogen status or high grass weed pressure.
Faba beans also have better tolerance of sodic and waterlogged soils than many alternate break crops, providing that the sodicity or underlying structural problems don’t greatly affect the water-holding capacity of the soil.
“Faba beans can deliver good rotational outcomes, particularly when it comes to soil nutrition through both a nitrogen build-up and improved soil structure perspective and is the best winter break crop we have to help manage crown rot and other cereal root disease issues. The crop also allows a broad range and herbicide selection,” he said.
“The vigour and early planting of faba beans means they are better able to compete with grass weeds than chickpeas, and weed escapes will generally set fewer seeds in a faba bean crop than in a chickpea crop.
“There are several herbicide control options for grass weeds both pre and post-emergent. Being early maturing, there is also potential to use a crop-topping/desiccation spray or windrowing to sterilise annual ryegrass seed.
“Being a legume crop, one of the major benefits of growing faba beans is nitrogen fixation but it’s important to ensure that the process for inoculating the seed at planting is effective. If it isn’t, it can result in poor nodulation on the plants resulting in poor growth, hence poor nitrogen fixation.
“The other critical component of successful faba bean production in western NSW is getting the seeding date right. That is, matching planting date and rate to available soil moisture. Research has shown that planting date has a major impact on crop yield potential and therefore profitability.”
The traditional Archilles’ heel of faba beans has been resistance to diseases such as rust and chocolate spot but thanks to extensive research and selective crossbreeding under a national Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded program, the newer varieties of faba bean such as PBA Warda are more resistant to disease as well as hardier and higher-yielding.
“The newer varieties have a much better fit in a north western NSW environment and if I cast my mind back to the experiences we had with varieties such as Fiord and Cairo in the early days the distance the industry has come is huge,” Mr Rummery said.
“Pest and disease management are key factors of faba bean production and success will depend largely on having a good understanding of the major pests and pathogens involved.
“The main diseases to monitor for are rust, chocolate spot and viruses such as Bean leaf roll virus and Bean yellow mosaic virus while on the pest front, growers need to keep an eye on aphid and heliothis populations.”
For more information on faba bean production in northern Australia, visit the GRDC Faba bean GrowNote.
Greg Rummery, Greg Rummery Consulting, Walgett
0428 259 535
Sarah Jeffrey, Senior Consultant Cox Inall Communications
0418 152 859