A LEADING Western Australian grain grower, who has branched out into grain and pulse exporting, has said an increase in pulse production in the west would not only create a valuable new source of income but would boost returns from the state's staple cereal crops.
Speaking at the Australian Pulse Conference (APC) in Horsham last month Neil Wandel, Esperance Quality Grains (EQG), said he felt Western Australia was a relatively untapped market in terms of growing high value legume crops.
WA traditionally has grown the lion's share of Australia's lupins, but has not embraced other pulse crops such as chickpeas, lentils and faba beans which have been lucrative crop options for growers in the east and South Australia.
Part of that has been soil-type driven, with some pulse crops not tolerant of the acid soils that make up large tracts of WA's grain belt, but Mr Wandel said it was a problem that could be overcome.
"You look at a crop like chickpeas and there's no doubt we have got the country that can grow them," he said.
"We grow 45 per cent of Australia's grain in WA, but we've dropped from growing 1.5 million tonnes of legumes to just half a million tonnes."
Mr Wandel said the success with canola had meant the oilseed had taken hectares off lupins, but added while it was a good weed management option it did not have the same nitrogen-fixing qualities.
"We had the massive wheat crop last year, but what we found was that much of the wheat was coming in at less than 8pc protein.
"That is not a trend that can keep going and if we don't want to be using massive amounts of nitrogen fertiliser then we are going to have to grow more pulses."
"The proof is in the pudding, I've bought a few farms in the past decade, but I haven't bought many where pulses have been grown, the pulse producers are generally the ones buying more ground."
Mr Wandel said he felt WA should be 10pc planted to pulses, but said it did not necessarily have to be in the high profile grain legumes such as chickpeas and lentils.
"Things like vetch can give you a really good weed break, so I hope we as an industry continue to invest in research into these crops, not just the major ones."
The EQG business exports containers of pulses and milling oats to a range of destinations across Asia.
It capitalises on the crops grown in the Esperance port zone, which grows the vast majority of WA's non-lupin pulse crops, primarily field peas and lentils, although faba beans are also being more widely grown with improved varieties limiting disease risk.