Big opportunities for lentil growers

WA pulse agronomist Dr Kadambot Siddique: major market opportunity for lentils.

A leading international lentil breeder has told Western Australian growers that the development of lentil varieties suited to WA conditions will improve yields and cater for a promising new export market.

For the past four years pulse breeders have been evaluating lentils in work supported by growers through the GRDC. Victorian varieties have now been adopted by 20 WA growers.

But William Erskine, a lentil breeder from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Syria, said the Centre's access to international collections of genetic material enabled it to cross-breed lentils tailored to specific parts of the world.

"This means we can produce a small-seeded, early flowering lentil variety more suitable than the Victorian varieties for WA's short growing season and dry climate,'" Dr Erskine said.

WA pulse agronomist, Kadambot Siddique, said ICARDA had provided WA with lentil germplasm that was yielding 40-90 per cent more grain than the Victorian varieties in early trials.

High-value cash crop

"Lentils are a high-value cash crop and are currently selling for about $425/t," Dr Siddique said. He said the 1995 average yield was 1.1 t/ha in WA, which makes lentils equally profitable to wheat.

"Australia's biggest potential export market for lentils is the Indian subcontinent, where pulses are the major protein source for the subcontinent's mostly vegetarian 1.2 billion people. Demand in this region is greater than supply," Dr Siddique said.

"WA growers are in an ideal position because they are capable of producing high-quality lentils before cereal crops are harvested, and delivering them when demand is high.

Break for disease

"Growing lentils in crop rotations is advantageous for growers because legumes break disease cycles, increase soil nitrogen and contribute to improved cereal yields and protein contents," Dr Siddique said.

The RDC is currently funding further research into projects on disease resistance and management in vetch, lentils and Lathyrus.

Subprogram 2.4.06 Contact: Dr Kadambot Siddique 09 369 3493