Search for disease tolerance in chickpeas

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Photo of Queensland grower Peter Waddell

Queensland grower Peter Waddell’s 2016 crop of PBA Boundary chickpeas yielded an on-farm record of 3.2 tonnes per hectare on his property at Formartin, south of Jondaryan, on the Darling Downs.

PHOTO: Liz Wells

Darling Downs grower Peter Waddell has been working with researchers to ‘road test’ chickpea varieties able to play a larger, more reliable role in rotations

When Formartin, Queensland, grower Peter Waddell realised wheat was susceptible to losing as much as 20 per cent of its yield potential to crown rot, he decided 2016 was the year to replace it in his winter crop rotation.

He opted instead for barley, a consistently solid performer, which yielded 4.6 tonnes per hectare in the 2016 harvest, and chickpeas, a crop he admits he has had a “love–hate” relationship with.

“We started growing chickpeas to see if we could make money out of a crop that gave us rotational benefits – mix things up a bit,” he says.

His family property, ‘Nyerin’, is located south of Jondaryan, on the Darling Downs, and derives about 75 per cent of its income from sorghum. Peter will have 638ha of sorghum as his main summer crop, along with smaller areas of maize, dryland cotton and mungbeans.

“We’ve grown chickpeas most years since 2009. They are a crop we can use to get away from cereal on cereal, and get on top of weeds, which can be a real problem because of our variable soil types.”

While most of his chickpea crops have delivered modest profits and helped subsequent wheat and barley crops deliver respectable yields, the 2013 crop suffered a 50 per cent yield loss to frost.

“We had consecutive severe frosts in late August, which cost us a lot in yield because the plants stopped flowering and suffered vegetative damage.”

But rather than abandon chickpeas he has decided to give them another go this year, and will be using results from a GRDC and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF)-funded trial on his property to guide his decisions about what varieties to plant.

Conducted by Queensland DAF’s senior research scientist Dr Yash Chauhan and technical officer Sam Allard, the trial, which is looking at six commercial varieties, also includes sites at Queensland DAF facilities at Kingaroy and Hermitage.

Eleven advanced breeding lines from the Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA) chickpea program were also selected for evaluation and grown along with PBA Boundary, PBA HatTrick, Kyabra, PBA Monarch, PBA Pistol and PBA Seamer in adjacent trials at all three locations.

However, an unusually frost-free winter has meant the trials have been repurposed to evaluate tolerance to fungus in the face of what Peter describes as “an awesome spring”, with 83 millimetres of rain falling in September alone.

“Peter was keen to learn about chickpea varieties that are not only frost tolerant, but also have a good resistance to biotic constraints such as ascochyta blight and botrytis grey mould, two major diseases commonly occurring in chickpea, which can dramatically reduce yields,” Dr Chauhan says.

Peter and Dr Chauhan met at the Australian Summer Grains Conference in early 2016 and found common ground in the need for a trial site and improved varietal information.

Around the trial, Peter this year grew 81ha of PBA Boundary chickpeas, a variety that has proven to be relatively resistant to ascochyta blight.

Dr Chauhan says 2016 was a mild winter, with fewer and less severe frosts at Formartin than normal. However, the increased rainfall saw the trial at this location become heavily infected with ascochyta blight.

“We have been able to see the potential gains that Peter and growers like him could make if they were to grow some of the more promising cultivars being developed, especially during wet seasons, like this one, where ascochyta blight is more likely to occur.”

Dr Chauhan says varieties such as the newly released PBA Seamer, and three other promising breeding lines, have been performing well under severe disease pressure when compared with susceptible commercial varieties such as KyabraA and PBA Pistol in the trials.

“Some of the varieties and advanced breeding lines being tested at Peter’s property that were found to be more tolerant to ascochyta blight were also less susceptible to frost at the Hermitage research facility, where frost incidence was more severe.”

Peter says he was not keen to go back to wheat, even though Australian Hard 2 (H2) grade wheat from varieties such as EGA Gregory at 11.5 to 12 per cent protein often fetched a good price. “We can’t afford to keep giving up yield to crown rot, to see those white heads popping up, especially when there’s a dry finish.”

He says barley’s earlier finish made the crop less susceptible to moisture stress, but the 196ha of Compass – a variety he had not grown before – suffered widespread lodging and yielded less than expected because of low test weights when harvested in late October and early November.

Given the nitrogen-fixing bonus chickpeas contribute throughout the winter cropping cycle, Peter cannot see himself going back to wheat until varieties with improved crown rot resistance are available.

The chickpeas were sown in May at a depth of 150mm to chase subsoil moisture, and, with single fungicide sprays in July, August and September and one Altacor® spray for heliothis grubs, his crop yielded an on-farm record of 3.2t/ha.

“They have a very good ability to come up from depth.”

Peter says the selection of appropriate varieties being developed and evaluated by researchers such as Dr Chauhan, coupled with vigilant management, means chickpeas can be profitable and provide a valuable addition to the rotation.

More information:

Peter Waddell,
0427 350 169,

Dr Yash Chauhan, Queensland DAF,
0423 825 637,


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GRDC Project Code DAQ00193

Region North