Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 072 January-February 2008 - North
Wet finish slows lift-off for Aussie Boomer A dry winter and wet spring have knocked efforts to establish a new lentil industry able to challenge Canada's green lentils, but hopes remain high for a promising new crop in the years ahead BY MELISSA MARINO n The dry 2007 growing season, which finished wet in Victoria's north-west, lowered yield expectations for the new Australian-bred, green lentil BoomerA whose stocks were being built up on five farms across the Wimmera Mallee. BoomerA is a larger variety and is attracting strong market interest. Several promising export markets have been identified, but shipments will now be scaled back so that most of the seed can be supplied to growers for 2008. Despite the latest setback, where late rains at harvest further reduced yields already stunted by the dry winter, David Matthews, who is growing the new pulse and overseeing its supply chain management from development to market, says there are still high hopes for its potential. While farmers have been growing seed, marketers are working on securing buyers, ensuring growers will have a ready market for the product that Mr Matthews feels could one day challenge the world's dominant green lentil exporter, Canada. At the start of 2007, Mr Matthews, director of grain processor and marketer The Wimmera Grain Company, was hoping 500 tonnes of the new green lentil would be available; half to be sold to growers as seed for 2008, and half for export to European canning companies. But by season's end that forecast was downsized to about 100t, limiting the amount available for export. Even so, Mr Matthews is striving to get at least some grain to each of his target export customers. "It's not the sort of trial we wanted, but they are a beautiful-looking lentil and they are the first Australian green lentil that will compete with the Canadian crop. The signs are still good for developing a new lentil industry," he says. Mr Matthews says the dual nature of the BoomerA program -- bulking-up seed while identifying markets -- is a good example of how a product can have enough early market acceptance and recognition to give growers confidence there will be demand for their crop. One of those growers is Andy Delahunty, who runs a 4200-hectare cropping enterprise with his brother Leo, near Murtoa in the Wimmera. This year he planted 40ha of the new green lentil to bulk-up seed for commercial development as part of The Wimmera Grain Company program. Pleased with their quality, he plans to grow another 40ha in 2008, but he also has some reservations about the variety, concerned that it appears to be affected badly by frost and wind-loss, with many of the pods falling to the ground. Mr Delahunty sowed the crop in the first week of June, direct drilling on 30cm rows followed by prickle chaining to smooth out the ridges to help with harvest. Weeds were controlled with a knock-down spray pre-sowing, Treflan® at sowing and Simazine® later. In a growing season that delivered 230 millimetres of rain to the end of October, frosts all through late spring and a November that bought 75mm of rain, Mr Delahunty's harvest yielded just 400 kilograms a hectare. Mr Delahunty says the crop was affected by frosts more than other lentil varieties, with nearby paddocks yielding between 800kg and 1.5t/ha. He speculates that this may be because they flowered at a different time, but wants to learn more. "It might have just been a one- off and bad luck, we're not sure," he says. Like all pulses, the green lentil BoomerA provides a disease break for cereals, and is a good earner in it own right, but specifically it shows good early vigour and is a larger grain, which makes sorting easier, he says. "They're a good-looking lentil ... and they're quite liking them in the market." Mr Matthews says that in what has been a tough year the green lentil has demonstrated its potential, particularly with its early vigour: "One of the features of BoomerA is it has a bit more height than the red lentil to make it easier to harvest," he says. But overall, he says, yields are disappointing, reflective of below-average lentil yields across all varieties. "There will be enough seed to get some reasonable level of planting, but it means we won't have as much grain available to do the export- market development we would have liked." Mr Matthews says the potential for a new green lentil industry comes from the fruitful collaboration between several key groups: Dr Michael Materne's breeding program under Pulse Breeding Australia at Horsham's Grains Innovation Park; AWB Seeds, which won the commercialisation tender; AWB's SeedNet partners, including The Wimmera Grain Company, which is coordinating seed production, processing and distribution; growers; and marketers Peter Semler and Russell Greening. "You have this group of people who are communicating with each other to take the seed right from pre-release through to target manufacturers and I think that's just great," he says. "In terms of a model of cooperation for taking product to market it's the best one we've been involved with." More information: David Matthews, 03 5385 5344, firstname.lastname@example.org; Andy Delahunty, 0428 504 872, email@example.com Pulses GROUND COVER JANUARY -- FEBRUARY 2008 4 KEY POINTS n Strong overseas interest in new, Australian-bred, green lentil n First expor ts cur tailed to give growers more seed n Growers pleased with early results David Matthews, director of The Wimmera Grain Company, checks the progress of the BoomerA green lentils growing on his Rupanyup property in Victoria's Wimmera. PHOTOS: MELISSA MARINO Andy Delahunty surveys his crop of green BoomerA lentils at his property near Murtoa, north-west Victoria.
Ground Cover 071 November-December 2007 - North
Ground Cover 073 March-April 2008 - North