Grain with a history takes root in the Apple Isle

Photo of Will Morrison

Rain and floods kept Tasmanian grower Will Morrison shed-bound for much of June and July, and wiped out his first faba bean crop, but he remains enthusiastic about this addition to Tasmania’s cropping scene.

PHOTO: Brad Collis

Although faba beans were one of the earliest cultivated grains some 8000 years ago, they continue to cross agricultural frontiers – the latest advance being their incarnation as a new break crop for the steadily developing grains sector in Tasmania.

Faba beans have long accompanied human history, with China, the world’s largest producer, still benefiting from the grain legume’s introduction there about 2000 years ago by Silk Road traders.

Now Tasmanian farmers are hoping the legume will contribute to their history as a traditional livestock economy gives way to expanding cereals production.

Over the past two seasons, Southern Farming Systems has been running faba bean trials on the Morrison family’s property, ‘Pisa Estate’, near Cressy in Tasmania’s northern midlands.

The GRDC-funded trials have quickly attracted farmers’ attention, with the first effort last year delivering yields of up to 7.85 tonnes per hectare (6t/ha average) under irrigation.

The variety PBA Samira, established at 30 plants/m², yielded 7.85t/ha, and another variety, Nura, yielded 6.65t/ha from 25 plants/m². The hoped-for yield was 5t/ha and project leader Heather Cosgriff is now keen to see if higher seeding rates can achieve even higher yields. However, even a 6t/ha average would compare favourably with cereals for economic benefit.

Ms Cosgriff says the key for Tasmanian growers will be the development of a local market. Mainland faba beans are mostly exported to the Middle East for human consumption, but this might be less viable from Tasmania.

However, growers such as the trials’ host, Will Morrison, are optimistic. He is hoping faba beans will be a substitute for canning peas, for which returns have been diminishing. The same goes for poppies, the hub around which Tasmanian cropping once revolved but which are now suffering a global oversupply.

“The GRDC-supported SFS faba bean trials have certainly got us excited, despite the market questions,” Will says.

Even the loss of his first commercial crop to floods after a 200-millimetre downpour in June failed to dent his enthusiasm. “We sowed too late. Two weeks earlier and they would have been out of the ground and able to cope with the waterlogging,” he says in the crop’s defence.

Part of Tasmanian growers’ interest in the crop stems from legume break crops being extremely important for disease and weed control in stubble-retained cereal growing systems.

And faba beans are one of the most waterlogging-tolerant grain legume species available. They also tolerate acid subsoils, are comparatively frost tolerant and respond well to cool spring conditions for pod-fill, making them ideal for Tasmanian conditions.

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Feature:

GRDC Project Code SFS00030

Region Overseas, South