Ground Cover South : Ground Cover 047 November-December 2003 - South
He has a deep-sea port at his doorstep and belongs to a cooperative that last year shipped 32,000 tonnes of field peas in two shipments. Neil Wandel says he is passionate, not about peas -- but about the profit they generate. The Wandel family crops 10,000 hectares around Esperance in Western Australia. Each year a quarter of that is sown to pulses and last year 2500 hectares was under field peas. Mr Wandel says he does not run a family farm, he runs a family business, and peas have been a profitable part of that business for 22 years. He says the secret of success for peas is a set of six other Ps -- planning, preparation, perseverance, productivity, passion and PASE. Preparation begins with the use of a roller, "and the heavier the better". He says using a heavy roller at sowing makes harvesting easier. Mr Wandel says he has learnt from past mistakes, and now has a strict rotation to keep a check on black spot. He places a minimum of three years between peas in a paddock and that has dramatically reduced crop failures. Added to this are the benefits the pea crops confer on subsequent wheat crops: "A wheat crop after peas yields a tonne more than one that follows pasture,' he says. "On a pasture wheat rotation we were averaging 2.2 to 2.5 tonnes a hectare. With peas in the mix that's risen to well over 3t/ha and up to 5.8 t/ha. "We bought a neighbouring farm where the traditional wheat pasture rotation had been in place with yields of 2.5t/ha and within four years we'd built that to 4t/ha." Mr Wandel credits the role of peas in weed management for part of the gain, but speculates that there's something else afoot: "Tests show that this country has high levels of pratylenchus, a root pruning nematode. And peas and beans are the only effective break crop. "After either peas or beans 'prat' numbers drop from the thousands to a couple of hundred. You don't get the same benefit from pasture and I think it's in-part responsible for the lift in our wheat yields." All these experiences and gains have come from his dedication to his set of Ps. The P-for-passion comes from his firm belief now that without a pulse crop in rotation, his farming operation would no longer be viable. The final P he likes to talk about is P-for- PASE -- a grower cooperative, the Pulse Association of the South East. "We used to see three or four traders in the district each accumulate grain and then trade with each other for a ship load. "So we formed the cooperative seven years ago and put our crop out to tender. Our target was to equal east coast track prices and last year we did that. The cooperative venture is now worth a premium of $25 a tonne for us." WORKSHOP 13 NOVEMBER 2003 FIELD PEA FOCUS 2003 l By ALEC NICOL Disease the key to finding the pulse "I'll sow pulses when I know I can make a quid out of them." It's a common refrain from growers keen for a crop to extend their rotation but unwilling to risk any of the current pulse crops. Experience is showing that field peas are the most forgiving of the pulse crops, so what do you have to do to make a dollar from them? Price and yield are the deciding factors and Dr John Brennan, of the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, puts it neatly when he says if your field pea yield comes in at just over half your wheat yield, the price will need to be 36 percent better than the wheat price to be profitable. That 55 percent yield is about average for NSW growers, but elsewhere in Australia growers routinely do much better -- 64 percent in South Australia for instance. But before SA growers puff out their chests, Dr Eric Armstrong asks: "Just how good is that 64 percent?" Dr Armstrong, field pea breeder with NSW Agriculture and part of the Australian Coordinated Field Pea Improvement Program, sets himself the task of estimating the potential for field peas. Theoretically he puts this at just over 90 percent of attainable wheat yields, although realistically he will settle for 85 percent. If he is right, they should be the pulse crop everyone is looking for. He arrives at his 85 percent figure by comparing the energy required to produce the protein, oil and carbohydrates in each of the crops. Working with wheat at 12 percent protein, three percent oil and 75 percent carbohydrate, he estimates the plant will use 107 units of energy. Dr Armstrong calculates that it takes 2.5 times the energy to produce oil as it does to produce carbohydrates and twice as much to manufacture the protein, so not surprisingly a crop higher in either oil or protein than wheat will need more energy. Canola with 20 percent protein, 40 percent oil and 33 percent carbohydrate will use 173 units, 72 more than wheat. Canola's yield potential is 62 percent of wheat's yield potential and growers regularly get close to that potential. How do field peas compare? Lower in protein and oil content than lupins and higher in the less demanding carbohydrates, they use 115 units, compared to 107 in wheat. At that rate field peas have 90 percent of the yield potential of wheat. Even at the more realistic 85 percent of wheat yields, the best field pea yields still drop 20 percent short of this. What is going wrong? Disease seems to be the obvious problem, as the agronomy of the plant becomes established. Dr Armstrong jokes that during the early 90s he had clothes lines rigged everywhere at Wagga. He trellised two tall scrambling varieties and two shorter erect types and compared their yields with unsupported plots. Strung up, those talls doubled their yield, 2.5t/ha up to 5t/ha. The lodged plots suffered increased plant competition, disease, reduced seed size and pod abortion. His conclusion that shorter erect pea types is the way of the future gets no argument from growers and is already showing up in new releases. So disease remains the hurdle, and Dr Armstrong's work suggests it is a high hurdle. Working with 40 current varieties and advanced lines, he sprayed half with a fungicide every two weeks and left the others to take their chances with natural paddock infection. He has eight years of results concluding in 2002. These include disease disaster years, and years when disease did not have a great impact. But overall, disease robbed yield by 20 percent, with black spot the main problem. Disease resistance is now a breeding priority. GRDC RESEARCH CODE DAV455, program 2 MoonlightA, a new vigorous shatter- resistant field pea variety, is set to replace SnowpeakA. Released at a field day on the Eckermann family property in the Yenda district, New South Wales, in October. MoonlightA is a white-seeded, semi-leafless variety. The grain is large, 15 to 20 percent larger than SnowpeakA, and ideal for the human consumption market. The new variety is soft seeded to overcome the problem of field peas emerging as volunteer weeds in following crops. In three years of comparative trials across NSW its average yield was 2.15 tonnes per hectare, a six percent improvement on Snowpeak and comparable to the 2.29t/ha average yield of the recently released dun type KaspaA. MoonlightA was selected by Dr Eric Armstrong as part of the Australian Coordinated Field Pea Improvement Program. Dr Armstrong sets 16 desirable characteristics for his perfect field pea variety and rates MoonlightA as meeting six out of the seven most important criteria. Its vigorous early growth, ability to stand at harvest and superior shatter resistance, makes it a farmer-friendly variety. Disease resistance continues to be a challenge that field pea breeders are slowly overcoming. MoonlightA is moderately resistant to downy mildew, but its susceptibility to black spot and powdery mildew make it unsuitable for northern growing areas. It has been commercialised by Premier Seeds. GRDC RESEARCH CODE DAV455, program 2 Dr Neil Fettell says that he basically wandered into field peas as a crop while looking for something to extend continuous cropping rotations in drier wheatbelt areas. The senior researcher from the Agricultural Research and Advisory Station at Condobolin, NSW, found much to recommend field peas. "Controlled traffic technology is moving south," says Dr Fettell. "There's a real revolution in progress as people take livestock out of their farming system and farm more intensively. "There's a need for a legume in the rotation and without livestock the current option, lucerne, doesn't make a direct contribution." Dr Fettell's attraction to field peas is that they can be direct- drilled into stubble on 300 to 350mm row spacing without a reduction in yield. This suits the current farming system and while new, higher-yielding varieties are a bonus, he believes it is the changes in farming practices that will drive the expansion of the crop. Dr Fettell sees the opportunity for field peas every fourth or fifth year in the rotation: "The crop's ability to fix nitrogen and boost following cereal yields makes it particularly attractive. And disease is less of an issue in lower rainfall areas. "Our experience is that wheat after field peas will yield better than wheat after a cereal or canola. Field peas use less mineral nitrogen than canola and the trick to making sure they leave more nitrogen behind than is exported in their grain is to treat them mean. "Sow them in soil low in nitrogen, make them run on the nitrogen they can fix from the atmosphere. At Condobolin we conservatively estimate that a field pea crop contributes 40kg of nitrogen per hectare -- about the amount removed by a two tonne wheat crop at 11.4 percent protein." Dr Fettell says the bigger the biomass the better the chance of fixing nitrogen, but the impact on the following crop reflects the amount of "spared mineral nitrogen" left in the soil. "We've seen nitrogen benefits extend into a third cereal crop," he says. Ps that are the secret of success Neil Wandel: minding his Ps. MoonlightA shines at resisting shatter Changes in farming drive field pea adoption New breed: Dr Eric Armstrong shows off his new field pea variety, MoonlightA, named after the bushranger Captain Moonlight, at a recent field day in the Yenda district, New South Wales.
Ground Cover 048 February-March 2004 - South