Lentils prove their worth by Guy Cotsell

Mukinbudin farmer Dudley Squire inspecting his 1999 lentil crop which produced 1.6 t/ha. With returns at $450/t and an input cost of $100/ha, Mr Squire considered his gross margin quite satisfying.

Western Australian growers could respond to high lentil prices and successful yields by trebling their lentil plantings for the 2000 season, according to Agriculture Western Australia forecasts.

"The continued high prices ($400-450/t) provide a lucrative incentive to use lentils to widen the rotation between other pulse crops and hence improve all-round disease management," said Kadambot Siddique, Manager, Pulse Productivity and Industry Development with AGWEST.

Dr Siddique believes the availability of Cassab, a new variety well adapted to WA growing conditions, will contribute to this increase in plantings. Cassab and another new variety, Cumra, were described in Issue 25 of Ground Cover.

Dr Siddique said lentils were a fledgling export crop in Australia, largely based on Victorian and South Australian varieties. Plantings had increased from less than 1,000 hectares in 1993 to about 82,000 hectares in 1999. There was substantial potential for further expansion.

Good harvests in WA

WA farmers grew lentils on about 3,000 hectares in 1999. Harvest reports indicated yields would average about 1.5-1.8 t/ha with excellent quality in most areas.

Mukinbudin farmers Dudley and Tim Squire were amongst those who did well with their lentil crop. They planted 30 hectares of Digger, which yielded 1.6 t/ha. The crop cost about $100/ha to put in and the brothers received a price of about $450/t.

They plan to expand the Digger planting to 170 hectares this year, and have obtained Cassab seed to plant a further 20 hectares.

Because lentils are a very short crop, the brothers bought a flexible cutter bar with their new header this year. The brothers agree the $900 cost was more than recouped by the extra lentils it picked up.

Best suited for ...

Dr Siddique said lentils were best suited to well-drained and level clay loam paddocks with neutral to alkaline pH (6.0-8.0 in calcium chloride) in areas of low to medium rainfall (300-500 mm). They should be sown in late April or early May in low annual rainfall regions (300-00 mm) while mid-May sowing is likely to be optimum for medium-rainfall areas (400-600 mm) to allow for good weed management before sowing and to reduce the risk of lodging and fungal disease.

A sowing rate of 90-110 kg/ha is recommended to achieve a plant density of approximately 150 plants per square metre and sowing depth should generally be 4-6 cm.

Other pulses promising

Dr Siddique is also expecting new WA records for pulse plantings in the year 2000, leaving aside any effects of disease, frost and waterlogging.

Fortunes for WA pulse growers in 1999 were up and down, but excellent yields and above-average quality helped finish the year off on a high note for most, Dr Siddique said. 'As far as plantings go, lupins will probably stay about the same this year, but we are tipping an increase right across the board for chickpeas, field peas, faba beans, lentils and vetches."

Dr Siddique said, apart from lupins, the export outlook for most pulses was firm.

Program 2.4.2 Contact: Dr Kadambot Siddique 08 9368 3493