In Australia generally grain legumes are referred to as pulses. The term pulse is derived from the Latin pulse meaning that the seed or grain can be made into a thick soup or pottage. While both Soybean and Peanut are leguminous plants they are not regarded as pulses as they are traditionally seen to be oilseed crops (for information on oilseeds see Australian Oilseeds Federation).
The six major pulse groups grown in Australia are Chickpea, Faba/broad bean, Field pea, Lentil, Lupin and Vetch. In addition, there are a number of smaller and / or niche market crops such as Mungbean, Azuki bean, Navy bean, Cowpea and Pigeon pea. Within these types there are often numerous varieties, many of which have particular characteristics that suit differing markets.
Pulses are recognised for the role they can play in improving subsequent cereal yields, by breaking the cycle of cereal root diseases while maintaining soil fertility. Pulse crops are able to 'fix' nitrogen when growing and although most of this is stored in the grain and therefore removed when the crop is harvested, the plants have not taken this nitrogen from the soil and so the need for nitrogen fertilizers is reduced. This combination of higher soil nitrogen and reduced root diseases is cumulative and can result in a dramatic increase in subsequent cereal yields. Subsequent stubble residues may also provide valuable stock feed.
Various studies have been carried out to evaluate the benefits of using pulses in crop rotation. The majority of findings indicated that when pulse crops are grown in rotation with cereal and oilseed crops yields are increased by 0.5 to 1 tonne per hectare and protein by as much as 0.5 to 1.8%. This benefit can equate to as much as 30% of the total value of the pulse crop.
In a normal season, pulses currently represent approximately 2,265,000 hectares throughout the country and produce around 2.5 million tonnes of grain with a commodity value of over $A675 million. The overall value of pulses within the Australian agricultural industry is far greater when the benefits of increased yield and protein value of following cereal and oilseed crops is taken into account, reaching almost A$1 billion annually.