New faba beans show promise as HRZ break crop

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Photo of Ben Webb
Kojonup grower Ben Webb believes faba beans can be a profitable crop option for his business. PHOTO: Evan Collis

Kojonup growers Ben and Emily Webb are trialling faba beans in their high-rainfall region to determine whether the legume that many once dubbed “failure beans” might solve their break crop problems.

With root lesion nematodes on the rise in soils across the medium to higher-rainfall zones (HRZs), faba beans are one of the few break crops that can reduce nematode numbers in the soil.

While faba beans went out of favour in most Western Australian grain-growing regions two decades ago because of their susceptibility to chocolate spot and ascochyta blight, new disease-resistance packages have sparked renewed interest among growers with soil pH of about 5.5 and above.

The use of faba beans also allows him to break his soils from the increasing challenge of Rhizoctonia in lupin crops and sclerotinia in canola.

In the past few years, faba beans have made a comeback in the south and eastern coastal regions of WA, but with acidic soils in the wheatbelt and Great Southern areas, the pulse crop has failed to gain much traction in these regions.

After a decade of intensive liming, Ben Webb is seeing good early yields in his faba bean trials and believes there is potential for faba beans to add significant value to his crop rotations.

Not only are the beans a profitable export grain option and an excellent source of nutrition for his sheep, they are also proving to be a solution to his rising nematode challenge, with the bonus of nitrogen added back into his paddocks.

The use of faba beans also allows him to break his soils from the increasing challenge of Rhizoctonia in lupin crops and sclerotinia in canola.

The GRDC-invested trials on the Webbs’ property are being managed by the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Dr Raj Malik, who says accurate seed inoculation may be the key to good early establishment and strong yields.

In 2017, the trials achieved yields of one tonne per hectare, but both Dr Malik and Ben believe there is more to be achieved if they can manage the crop’s agronomy correctly.

Farmanco agronomist Chris Robinson, who is also closely watching the trials, believes faba beans offer real potential to growers impacted by nematodes.

Mr Robinson says growers in higher-rainfall regions are seeing yield losses of up to 1.5t/ha in cereals and 300 kilograms/ha in canola as a result of rising nematode numbers. “This has a significant impact on business profitability,” he says.

He says another reason for high-rainfall zone growers to consider faba beans is the crop’s strong tolerance to waterlogging when compared with other crops. This has been noticed on Ben’s property, he says, and such additional benefits add further to grower interest.