The value of a healthy pulse By Brad Collis

Neil Wandel during the installation of his new 30 tonnes-an-hour dryer.

PULSES, INITIALLY GROWN BY farmers in WA's south-east as a rotational crop to lift wheat and barley yields, have emerged as a high-value product in their own right through growers taking a direct hand in the crop's marketing.

Seven years ago, eight growers formed the Pulse Association of the South East Inc. (PASE) as a single trading cooperative. The cooperative, working with the Department of Agriculture, then became a vehicle for lifting quality and opening communications with buyers on the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia.

That direct market feedback, plus a system for spreading the information among all growers, has transformed a crop that was an agronomic cost into a significant source of new income - in addition to the increased cereal yields.

The contact with buyers and the agronomic support provided by the department, in particular agronomist Mark Seymour, helped growers lift the quality of their product to the levels required for the premium human consumption markets

One of PASE's founders, Neil Wandel, says the area planted to pulses has climbed dramatically as the number of growers in the association has risen to 80. The tonnage harvested has climbed from 4000 tonnes to 32, 000 tonnes, and enhanced the association's trading position by being able to offer large parcels. Wandel believes the region's annual production of pulses and legumes will eventually be about 40, 000 tonnes from 60, 000 hectares.

He says the growth is being boosted by a collaborative effort to maximise best-practice: "The association runs its own variety trials and all growers are on a fax stream so that information - agronomic and market - is shared quickly, " he explains. "This has increased awareness of the correct growing, harvesting and handling techniques and allowed the region to move from supplying a discounted product to a premium product. "

Four goals articulated when PASE was formed remain the focus. They are: to promote pulses as a sustainable part of the area's farming; to support research into pulses; to drive the marketing of pulses; and to represent grower interests.