14 February 2022, Australia: Being a transplanted Canadian, I have been living and working in Australia for the past 16 years, mostly in the agriculture field. I am originally from a small farm in central northern Saskatchewan. Pulse crops played a large part in rotations, mainly field peas starting in the mid-80’s. With 1980’s technology this was a struggle due to lodging, disease and the short growing season.
An Australian Canadian perspective on pulse crops
My area had approximately 93 frost free days. This makes for a very compact growing season. So harvesting pulse crops was very challenging and they soon lost favour amongst growers and Canola started to become the main crop other than wheat and barley. Canada has gone on to become the world’s largest exporter of Canola.
Field peas made a resurgence in the mid-90’s as better varieties became available that resisted lodging and disease.
Most of the field peas were/are grown in the northern and Eastern Saskatchewan grain belt that has poorer soils than central Saskatchewan but has better rainfall. Central Saskatchewan was always the hotbed of pulse growing, especially lentils, chickpeas and dry beans.
Most of this lentil production is exported to India and Turkey. Chickpeas and dry beans’ main market is the USA. Central and southern Saskatchewan were ideal to grow lentils and chickpeas and durum wheat as they have quite hot summers with lower rainfall in most of central Saskatchewan which has an average rainfall of 200mm per year.
Southern Saskatchewan this total is even lower at 120 to 150mm per year. Snow does help this somewhat but with 300mm snow equalling 25mm rain it is not the answer to their moisture needs (dry beans include black, navy, faba, pinto).
Lupins are a very new crop in western Canada with trials just starting in 2019/2020 to see the agronomic benefit of this crop into the western Canadian feed market. They have a ways to go to prove any benefits over the traditional barley or corn rations.
Eastern Canada, mainly Ontario, grows lots of corn and soybeans as their climate is better adapted to these crops than western Canada.
Wheat is also a large crop in Ontario along with dry bean pulse production. Ontario has not been as affected by the extreme dry conditions experienced in western Canada in 2021. We’ll focus on western Canada as that is the area that has the most relevance to what we grow in Australia.
How we can leverage this knowledge in Australia
The 2021 crop in western Canada was one of the worst on record with many of my mates recording the lowest yields they have ever seen since the 1930’s. Yields were in the 100 to 200kg per ha over large areas.
Fortunately, they have a well established crop insurance program that has helped them remain viable. Normally, these kinds of drought conditions come in two or three year lengths, the last one being in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Their outlook for the 2022 growing season looks to be dry as many paddocks were harvested extremely low to the ground which has made any capture of moisture extremely limited.
The confidence of a good season in 2022 among all the people I talk to in Sask. and Alberta is not optimistic of a good year. Below average year is their expectations.
They have the lowest carryover of crop in near history. This bodes very well for us here in Australia as we are all aware that the grain markets price the Australian crop after the North American harvest is underway.
Even with the expected increase in pulse crop seeding hectares in Australia due to high fertiliser prices, the pricing should stay very firm in 2022. As always many factors play into this scenario.
In pulse crops, plant stand is very important as most pulse crops do not compete well with weeds. Seeding rate plays a huge part in this; a typical seeding rate for lentils in Saskatchewan Is 85 kg/ha. Farmers that I have worked with in Australia have upped their lentil seeding rate to 65/70 kg/ha with very good plant stand numbers and increased yields over the lower seeding rates they were using previously.
Most pulses we grow in Australia fit into a similar scenario. It can be very advantageous to try different seeding rates on your farm to see if a different seeding rate can pay benefits in your farming system.
In pulse crops, inoculant plays a huge part in the growing of these crops as pulse crops once established can provide not only their own nitrogen but can also provide extra nitrogen to the following crops.
Inoculation is the process whereby bacteria are coated onto the seed; this bacteria then infects the roots to create the symbiotic relationship with roots to allow nitrogen from the air to be absorbed by the plant to not only be used for growth but also to supply an excess that is left in the soil for the following crop.
All pulse crops should be inoculated with the correct strain of bacteria to help the plant produce this excess nitrogen and maximise the benefits of the pulse crop.
Most soil contains small amounts of the correct strain of bacteria for nitrogen production but inoculation ensures that there will be enough to infect the roots. This is why these crops have become instrumental in our modern farming system rotations.