Lupin plantings set to rise

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Lupins, once widely sown in WA, look set to make a comeback.

Among those to take the plunge is Moonyoonooka farmer Paul Camerer, who has planted 250ha of lupins this year and, in coming years, expects lupins will represent a quarter of his 1700ha cropping program.

His own cropping program represents a broader trend among Mid West farmers who have planted an estimated 10 per cent more lupins this season, after early rains and strong demand.

Pulse Australia industry development manager Alan Meldrum expects the sown area of Australian sweet lupins would be about 330 000ha in 2015 - mostly in the Geraldton area.

Among types, Albus lupin plantings are set to double in size this year from 5000ha sown in 2014 to more than 10,000ha.

This is a significant move to regain ground lost in the mid-1990s when anthracnose disease took its toll on the established 15,000 to 25,000ha industry.

Mr Camerer said he planted 250ha of the new Amira variety this year, following on from 100ha last year.

His crop last year yielded about 2t/ha in an average season with a particularly hot spell in August which aborted flowering.

"Until recently our cropping rotation has been 50 per cent wheat and 50 per cent canola, we've been doing that year in and year out," he said.

"If these lupin plantings go well again this season, I'll aim to have 25 per cent lupins, 25 per cent canola and 50 per cent wheat in the rotation in coming years."

Mr Camerer said by introducing lupins he could extend the rotation and benefit from increased nitrogen, the ability to use higher rates of Select to control ryegrass, and provide an extra break for root disease.

"With the current pricing, these are one of our most profitable crops," he said.

"Even if the price came back by $100t/ha , this would still be a profitable crop for us."

Mr Camerer said this season marked his first major lupin plantings for some 15 years.

"We used to grow lupins back in the mid and late 1990s, but our crops were wiped out by anthracnose - we watched our lupin crops dissolve into the ground." he said.

"That was a third of our program. Until now, we hadn't grown lupins in a meaningful way since then."

Mr Camerer said he was still very cautious about anthracnose, noting the Amira variety was only tolerant, rather than resistant, to the disease.

However, this anthracnose tolerance of the Amira variety, a type of Albus lupin, combined with current attractive pricing and rotational benefits, means he is prepared to try lupins once again.

Mr Meldrum said as recently as 2011 growers were only offered $160 to $180/t on-farm for lupins, making the crop un-profitable when compared with canola and cereals.

Since then, lupin pricing has moved higher, about $300/t and better on-farm, and some growers have run into agronomic issues in tight rotations of canola and wheat.

Improved prices have been driven by uncertainly over global soybean production and the strong outlook appears set to continue.

Mr Meldrum said factors driving the increase in lupins overall included the high costs of managing disease in canola and an easing of vegetable oil prices on the world markets, which have made lupins a more attractive option for growers this year.

"The upfront cost of growing canola is around $100 to $150/ha higher than the cost of growing lupins," he said.

"This extra cost pushes the production risk for growers to a very high level, making lupins a more attractive option, particularly on the preferred soil type where Australian sweet lupin crops can produce yields of up to 3 t/ha."

In recent years good pricing and the introduction of the new disease-tolerant Amina variety is behind the comeback. "Grain legumes like lupins need to pay their way but they are worth more to the rotation than the on-farm grain price alone," Mr Meldrum said.

He said farmers were this year primed for a good season.

"The exceptional rains that fell in the area from Mullewa to Dalwallinu in March and follow-up rain in April rain has delivered a good early opportunity to plant lupin and set crops up to achieve above average yields," Mr Meldrum said.

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