From failure to Fiesta by Mike Perry

Greg Hull and Donna Hull: "When we trialed Fiesta we were immediately impressed by its higher yield (up to 0.4 t/ha over Fiord) and improved seed size."

FOR MANY Australian graingrowers in the 1980s and 1990s the terms 'faba bean' and 'failure bean' were synonymous. Crops too short to harvest, discoloured beans and grub damage were bad enough. But then the disease! If it was not Ascochyta, then there was chocolate spot, and if not chocolate spot, faba bean rust was waiting in the wings.

But despite all of these problems, faba bean has a dedicated, and increasing, following as grower experience of the crop deepens and improved varieties emerge from the GRDC's National Faba Bean Improvement Program. Fiesta is the latest variety (1998) released by the National Program and growers seem to like it.

Fiesta flowers in 70- 90 days, similar to Fiord, Barkool and Ascot. Fiesta is moderately resistant to chocolate spot, has some resistance to Ascochyta, but is susceptible to rust. Its drought tolerance may not match that of Fiord, but observations are that Fiesta appears better able to tolerate waterlogging.

Experience in southern Australia

Greg Hull and Donna Hull of Kyalite, south-western NSW mallee country, tried Fiesta for the first time in 1998. As experienced (8- 10 years) faba bean growers, they had stuck by the crop because of easier harvesting and frost tolerance compared to field pea.

"Fiord and Barkool have been our main varieties, but when we trialed Fiesta we were immediately impressed by its higher yield (up to 0.4 tlha over Fiord) and improved seed size.

"The premium of up to $30 per tonne for the human consumption trade also helped impress us," Mr Hull said. Season 200 I has been disappointing for the Hulls with the break not coming until mid-June.

"This would have been our fourth straight year with Fiesta, but mid-June is just too late for beans around here," Mr Hull said.

In South Australia Fiesta has shown an approximate 8 per cent yield advantage over Fiord and this, plus the market preference for a larger seed size (60-75 gl 100 seeds versus 35- 55 gllOO seeds for Fiord and Barkool), and lighter colour make it a preferred variety for human consumption.

Western Australian experience

In Western Australia Fiesta has consistently yielded less than Fiord except in some medium-rainfall trials. However, this has not stopped grower demand, which saw all seed supplies sold out in 2001.

For Neil Wandell of Dalyup, north-west of Esperance on the WA south coast, the main problem was getting hold of seed. Mr Wandell crops about 5,000 ha of mixed neutral and alkaline soils on 450 mm annual rainfall, and grows wheat, barley, lemil, field pea and faba bean.

After starting with Fiord, Mr Wandell changed to Ascot because of its Ascochyta resistance. In Mr Wandell's side-by-side comparison last year, Fiesta yielded as well or better, but with much better seed quality.

"What impressed us was the larger size, and the uniform light colour of the seed," Mr Wandell said. The harvested beans are sold to private traders and processors in Perth at prices of up to $300 per tonne.

Cash crop and break crop

Both Mr Hull and Mr Wandell use faba bean as both a cash crop in its own right and as part of their break -crop strategy. For Mr Hull the beans are central to controlling cereal root diseases which in the past devastated wheat crops on the property. Paradoxically, control of black spot in field peas is one of the important side benefits of growing faba bean for Mr Wandell.

"Field peas are looking good for us in the Esperance region, but a 1:3 or 1:4 pea:cereal rotation is still too close and black spot becomes a problem. With the beans, we can still use the 1:3 legume: cereal rotation, but have a longer break between pea crops," Mr Wandell said.

The larger seed size of Fiesta may be a distinct advantage once the crop is on the market; however, it can cause problems in sowing and harvesting. Mr Hull's plan to increase his sowing rate to 120-130 kg/ha came unglued when narrower pipework on a new airseeder caused seed to stick. A simple change from 25 mm to 32 mm pipe solved the problem, but as Mr Hull noted, "It's a trick for new players".

Strategies for a premium product

For growers of smaller-seeded faba beans such as Fiord, Barkool and Ascot, changing to Fiesta means harvesting will also need more care as the larger seeds are more susceptible to damage. Wide spacing of the concave wires, slow drum speed and harvesting early at the highest moisture content possible should all be part of the strategy to grow - and sell - a premium product.

The success of Fiesta could be taken one step further with the imminent release of a new variety from the GRDC's National Program. A selection from Fiesta, it has improved Ascochyta resistance that will complement the current excellent seed quality and chocolate spot-resistant advantages of the variety.

Note: Fiesta is protected by PBR.

Program 2.4.3 Contact: Mr Neil Wandell 08 9075 3031; Mr Greg Hull 03 5037 6586