PULSE Australia estimates a staggering 80pc of one of Australia’s prime crop production zones, South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, could be planted to lentils this year.
According to Mary Raynes, Pulse Australia southern region industry development manager, farmers are looking to increase lentil plantings wherever possible, drawn in by a combination of successful yields in recent years and record prices.
“We’ve seen lentil crops on the YP yielding up to four tonnes to the hectare over the past couple of seasons, especially in 2014-15, and at present, the price for lentils in South Australia is $1250/t,” Ms Raynes said.
The figure of 80pc relates to arable land in the central and northern YP. Further to the south there are less lentils produced due to a lack of suitable land, although Ms Raynes said farmers in the southern YP were increasingly looking at the pulse crop.
“You can see the attraction, gross margins of around $4000/ha, which could be hypothetically attained with lentils on current figures and local yield averages, are practically unheard of in broadacre cropping.”
But she warned YP growers may be opening a Pandora’s Box of problems, especially in terms of fungal disease.
“We’re hearing reports of lentils being grown on lentils, and in very isolated cases even cases of plans for a third consecutive lentil crop.”
“Pulse Australia does not recommend this practice and we urge growers thinking about pushing the envelope on lentil plantings to consider the industry as a whole.”
In particular, Ms Raynes said she was concerned about the risk of botrytis grey mould (BGM).
“We had issues on the YP last year with BGM and it was a dry spring, if the conditions come in wetter, there could be a significant disease threat there.”
She said around 60pc of the lentils being grown on the YP were the Hurricane XT variety, which is moderately susceptible to BGM.
“We feel there is the potential for some real problems there, by pushing the envelope too hard, it could be disastrous for the variety, which has performed so well when used correctly.”
Maitland, Yorke Peninsula, district grower Ben Wundersitz said he expected growers to handle the challenge well.
“There won’t be widespread lentil on lentil rotations, the only lentil on lentils you will see is where someone is trying to control grass weeds or perhaps where people have pulled a fence out,” he said.
“People are well aware of the risks of not sticking to a good agronomic rotation.
“They also know that with pulses, the prices we see in March aren’t necessarily reflective of what we’ll see come harvest.”
He said in his area lentils had performed well last year in terms of margins, but were not at the record levels quoted by Ms Raynes.
“We had a 30pc rainfall deficit last year and lentil production was around 1-1.5t/ha as a rough rule, with harvest values of around $950/t.”
“It was still a good earner, but we haven’t really killed the pig like you hypothetically could have with prices of $1250/t.”
Ms Raynes said the YP presented a unique challenge for growers.
“Because it is surrounded by sea, there isn’t the room for expansion you have in other areas and we can see why growers would want to grow lentils there given the success they have had in recent years, but we are just urging them to follow sound rotational practices.”
“The ongoing strength of the industry is bigger than any one grower,” she said.