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Albus lupin central to the rotation

Red sandy loam and minimal risk of frost are a perfect combination for albus lupin. For 11 years Mark and Cherie Robinson have grown 300 to 400 ha of albus lupin on their 2100 ha property near Coonamble in northern NSW.

“In good seasons our lupins grow almost to shoulder height so this year’s crop seems disappointing at only knee height,” says Mark. “But that’s what the season has been like.” 

“In a good year the stored moisture is sufficient to grow the lupins with minimal in-crop rainfall needed,” he says. “This season we relied on in-crop rain that never came and the crop averaged a disheartening 0.95 t/ha yield.”

The Robinsons have tried chickpeas in rotation with cereals and canola but have found that lupins are the best fit pulse crop for their farming system. Mark says the extra $100/t paid for human consumption grade lupins exported to Egypt is well worth chasing. The market is relatively small and in good production years there is always additional scrutiny of the grain quality.  

“The 2010 season was particularly good with high yields and, following the excellent prices of 2009, over $700/t for human consumption grade lupins,” he says.

“Exceptional prices are just that though. The drop in price for the 2010 season to $250 per tonne was dramatic but offset by yields of 3 t/ha. Average prices around the $400 to $500 per tonne plus the rotational benefits of growing a legume make lupins a very viable option.” 

Paying close attention to crop protection has been an important part of the Robinson’s success with lupins. While diseases are not usually a problem it is important to monitor for pests. Helicoverpa are the main insect pest and must be controlled from flowering onwards. Their local Landmark agronomist, Graeme Proctor, plays a big part in their pulse crop success, monitoring the crop for insects regularly during this critical period. Mice and feral pigs are the other pests that can have significant impacts on lupin yields.

‘Nyleve’ was formerly a grazing block and when they purchased it in 2003 there were serious weed challenges to overcome. The Robinsons used crop rotation and a summer fallow spray program to bring weeds under control. They set each crop up for strong germination and use residual herbicides such as simazine and diuron incorporated by sowing (IBS). Mark keeps an eye out for broadleaf weeds in the lupins and cleans them out in-crop if necessary. 

“Pulses can be difficult to grow if there is significant weed pressure but it is possible to bring weeds under control through a planned and consistent program,” he says.

 “Lupins are grown every four or five years in each paddock in rotation with canola, wheat and barley so we have opportunities to get the upper hand on broadleaf weeds leading up to sowing lupins.”

Depending on soil tests they often apply MAP at around 30–50 kg/ha with a seeding rate of 80–100 kg/ha. In 2014, no fertiliser was applied due to a failed 2013 crop leaving enough residual nutrient. As Mark says, this part of northern NSW has been seriously rain deficient since June 2012, making management decisions very difficult.

The Robinsons avoid growing wheat on wheat and estimate that the lupins grown before wheat add another 0.5 to 0.6 t/ha to the wheat yield.

Prior to purchasing ‘Nyleve’ Mark had worked as an agricultural contractor concentrating on harvesting, windrowing and spraying. He says the set up at the front end of the header is vital when harvesting lupins. Using a rotary header with a belt front, rather than a conventional front, with a table auger, Mark sets the finger reel high and slow so that it is gentle on the pods to avoid shattering them as they go over the knife.

“Rotary machines are the most gentle on the grain, allowing good cleaning capacity whilst not cracking the seed. A poor sample can be downgraded to Lupin 2 with a substantial price drop,” he says.

The Robinsons save as much on-farm storage space as possible for their lupins, storing only enough wheat and barley seed for next season. Their experience with marketing lupins is that prices always rise after harvest and there are usually other price spikes through the year. 

“We aim to have everything sold by August but there is no pressure to sell everything early,” he says. “Buyers are looking for lupins all year, not just around Ramadan, so you can monitor the markets and sell when you think the price is about to peak.”  

“We aim to store 500 to 700 t of lupins each year and can usually sell them at a couple of hundred dollars a tonne more than the price offered at harvest. Provided the grain goes into the silos at 13.5 per cent moisture or less lupins store very well and are very easy to handle.”