Cowpeas flourish

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

They might not have had much to drink but cowpeas grown on just 25mm of rain have come up trumps.

Ray Fulwood seeded the cowpeas into moisture on both canola and wheat stubbles in mid December after picking up 23mm of rain during harvest.

The Meckering farmer trialled the peas in the hope they could provide a source of summer nitrogen and help extend the wheat-on-wheat rotation.

It's too early to tell whether they will have any impact on this season's wheat crop but Ray said the peas certainly proved they were hardy.

"Most of them have actually podded and the best of them grew knee high," he said.

"More rain would have been nice but they've done fairly well considering we had a good 3.4-tonne wheat crop there before and that would have used a lot of the moisture up.

"They've grown in fairly poor sand."

He estimates the Black Stallion cowpeas, grown on wheat stubbles, will yield about 400kg in places, but Red Caloona grown on canola stubble didn't fair so well.

"The Black Stallion has grown better for longer and put on more biomass," he said.

"They haven't done very well (on canola).

"The canola, which was 2.5t in that paddock would have sucked out all of the moisture because it was still green at harvest. Then we had the Rutherglen bugs off the canola and onto the cowpeas, destroying the seedlings.

"I think I would avoid canola (stubble) for sure."

Given the right conditions, Ray will try the Black Stallion again as a summer crop but this season is trialling planting the seed along with wheat in his normal winter crop.

"We'll probably only do five hectares or 10ha," Ray said.

"If that works it will save planting the crop in the middle of harvest and a lot of work.

"But you might not have a very good summer - it's just speculation that there will be enough moisture there."

Nevertheless, Ray believes the sheer hardiness of the cowpeas warrants proper research into whether they can indeed extend the wheat-on-wheat rotation and how much nitrogen they fix.

They could also have applications for summer hay or grazing.

"We did dig one right out and it was well nodulated - it was nodulated like a lupin," he said.

"Leaves that have dropped off have dropped into the furrows and they would also have a fair bit of nitrogen left in them.

"Hopefully they are doing something for us nitrogen-wise.

"There might not be many years that it is suited but for the south coast and soils with moisture under them it might work out as long as you can do it cheaply."

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