Rain and research make chickpeas a mainstay crop

Image of Colin Dunne

Central Queensland grower Colin Dunne pauses to sum up the role of pulses in his 12,000-hectare business at Duaringa.

PHOTO: Clarisa Collis

Saturated conditions may have dampened Central Queensland grower Colin Dunne’s hopes for a bumper chickpea harvest this winter grains season, but he says that overall the high rainfall in 2016 means “money in the bank”.

On his 12,000-hectare property at Duaringa in the Central Highlands region, about 120 kilometres west of Rockhampton, Colin is banking on a 1600ha chickpea crop, for which he has seen commodity prices range from $750 to $1050 a tonne in the past few months. In mid-September they were earning about $900/t.

Colin says although more than 325 millimetres of in-crop rain, including 177mm over three days, has cost him some yield on about 10 per cent of his chickpeas on flat country, he expects the remainder of the crop to convert the high rainfall into high yield.

Of the Dunne family’s total area planted to KyabraA chickpeas, he expects yield will be lost in 100ha of “anaemic-looking” plants. Another 100ha affected by waterlogging will yield 0.5 to 1t/ha, but the rest of the crop should deliver about 3t/ha.

Colin says the yields envisaged this season in part stem from successive advances in GRDC-funded chickpea R&D that have recast the pulse as a profitable sequencing option, and ultimately as a mainstay crop in his northern farming system.

Illustrating these pre-breeding advances, he estimates varietal improvements have lifted chickpea productivity on his property by about 1t/ha since he started growing the crop 15 years ago.

Further offsetting the Dunnes’ partial yield losses in chickpeas due to soil saturation is another profitable pulse crop – mungbeans. Colin says this summer crop’s relatively short growing season, spanning just 90 days, allows them to plant three high-return pulses a year: mungbeans, then chickpeas, followed by another mungbean crop.

Although there are only enough days in the calendar year to harvest two of these crops, the third mungbean crop, harvested early the following year, nevertheless adds to the Dunnes’ farm business gross margins for 2016.

For example, their 750ha mungbean crop harvested in May, which yielded between 1 and 1.5t/ha, averaged $1200/t.

Colin says that compared with other lower-value, higher-volume summer crops, such as sorghum, which typically yields about 3.5t/ha and averages $160/t on their property, mungbeans yield about half of the grain volume, meaning less on-farm work in terms of harvesting, storage and transport for about seven times the price.

As with chickpeas, he has also found that a succession of variety releases through the GRDC-funded National Mungbean Improvement Program has provided a suite of on-farm benefits. These include a yield increase estimated at 0.5t/ha, better tolerance to disease and insect damage, and improved bean quality.  

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Feature:

Pulses allow three crops and a profit hike

Region North