Room for improvements in the pulse industry by Dennis Slee

Alan Hunter is nothing if not candid when it comes to the future of the pulse industry.

"It's true," he says, "that some growers are disenchanted with crops like chickpeas, field peas, faba beans and lupins at the moment. And that's why we have to do something quickly about yields and diseases.

"We have to ask ourselves why has Canada been able to double its pulse yields so that they now average about 90 per cent of wheat yields, and why ours are only about 60 per cent. We should also be asking why the per capita consumption of pulses in Canada has gone from 1.5 kg to 9.5 kg in the past 10 years but is less than 1 kg in Australia."

Mr Hunter is chairman of Pulse Australia, a corporate conglomerate of pulse industry interests including growers, processors, marketers and researchers, with headquarters in Sydney.

The company was formed following a GRDC-funded study of the pulse industry by the Grains Council of Australia. In urging the formation of Pulse Australia, the study revealed an industry characterised by "lack of coordination and planning"... "lack of market development processes"... "major limiting factors including yield, quality of varieties, level of crop support and grower management skills".

It noted that, while production since the 1980s had increased 10-fold to two million tonnes annually, there was "an enormous potential market based around consumers seeking healthy and cost-effective products".

Market prospects bright

Alan Hunter, too, believes pulse marketing prospects are bright both locally and especially to countries such as India. He grows chickpeas, pigeon peas and mung beans on his Moree farm along with cereals, sorghum and cotton, but he also recognises that reforms are needed in the pulse industry — and quickly.

"Farmers need confidence in these crops before they will invest their land to them," he said. "Bulk handlers, chemical manufacturers and distributors, marketers and seed companies all need to know the industry is well supported and confident before committing any significant amounts of time or money."

He and his fellow directors see Pulse Australia, which began operations about nine months ago, as helping to provide the confidence.

Targets

Pulse Australia has identified three prime targets:

  • to improve varieties and their disease resistance while helping farmers with growing techniques;
  • making storage and handling facilities more 'pulse friendly' and increasing space for segregation;
  • improving marketing opportunities and penetration by pursuing quality assurance and certification procedures.

Mr Hunter said a quality management system, complementary to the wider grains industry, was being designed and should be completed by the end of 1996'.

"We are also organising a food industry conference in Victoria in July to encourage the food industry to include more pulses in their processed food; we are investigating the effects of plant breeders' rights on the willingness of companies to release privately-owned overseas varieties; and we are researching ways to speed up national plant breeding efforts," he said.

Who runs pulse Australia

Chairman, Mr Alan Hunter

Grains Council of Australia, Mr Mervyn McDougall

Australian Wheat Board, Mr Chris Ayres

GRDC, Professor John Lovett

Australian Grain Marketing Federation, Mr Trevor Day

National Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association, Mr David Moore

Special qualifications and deputy chairman, Mr Alan Winney

Executive officer, Mr Stephen Ware (02) 247 2033 Pulse Australia, Level 11, 60 Pitt St, Sydney, NSW.