2016 Australian Pulse Conference

Callen Thompson, Senior Extension Agronomist Katherine

The Australian Pulse Conference held in Tamworth in September celebrated the International Year of the Pulse. The theme of the conference was “Feed the farm—feed the world”.

Pulses are legume crops, where the grain is harvested dry. This includes but is not limited to mung beans, chickpeas, lentils and faba beans. The Department of Primary Industry and Resources is interested in exploring the potential for pulse crops to fit into a future cropping system for the north. I was fortunate to travel to Tamworth to attend the 2016 conference, to learn about new research in pulse production so that I can extend new technologies that might be useful to producers in the NT.

The first day of the conference focused on breeding and trait selection using molecular markers and phenotyping. Traits included pest and disease tolerance, nitrogen fixation, yield improvement, environmental suitability and herbicide tolerance. Herbicide tolerance is relevant to potential pulse or soybeans (a legume, but not technically a pulse) producers in northern Australia. One of the factors that have led to limited uptake of these crops is the inability to control broadleaf weeds like sickle pod and sida. Through conventional breeding, plant breeders have been able to develop varieties that are resistant to group B and C herbicides. These herbicides are able to control a variety of broadleaf weeds without significantly reducing crop yield. This is not through genetic modification.

A number of speakers addressed the adaptation of plants to tolerate a harsher climate, in particular higher temperatures and lower moisture. This could benefit the Territory in two ways. Firstly as breeders select plants which will tolerate higher temperatures, especially at key times like flowering and grain fill, it increases their suitability to our hotter environment.

Secondly breeders are looking to adapt varieties for harsher conditions expected with climate change. This means they are interested in conducting trials outside of the main growing areas to take advantage of hotter drier climates. Therefore they are interested in working with research organisations within northern Australia. Collaborations like this allow us to access new agronomic technologies and genetics. It also brings capacity and knowledge to our area.

The second day began with a focus on the development of the different pulse industries. The need for strategic but flexible breeding programs was explained, in particular how the formation of Pulse Breeding Australia has benefited the industry.

The development of the chickpea industry was of particular interest. Grower Sam Gourley and former NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) plant breeder Edmund Knight spoke about the history of chickpeas in Australia. It was a great example of government departments working with growers to solve problems in a cropping system. Sam explained that initially chickpeas were not profitable but they could see the benefits in including them in a rotation. NSW DPI used plant breeding, pathology and improved agronomy to make chickpeas one of the more profitable crops in the rotation.

The second part of the day commemorated the International Year of the Pulses (IYP). Keynote speaker Tim McGreevy spoke about how the IYP committee had used social media to promote the four themes which are:

  • creating awareness
  • food security, nutrition and innovation
  • market access and stability
  • productivity and environmental sustainability.

One of the ways they promoted pulses was to take successful cooking bloggers and teach them how to cook with pulses. Before the initiative only five percent of the American population knew what a pulse was. As of June 2016 it was 25 percent.

The third day was supposed to be a field trip to the Liverpool Plains to visit NSW DPI and University of Sydney’s research stations. Unfortunately for the delegates, the Liverpool plains received around 40 mm of rain overnight, which, when added to the already wet conditions, meant that roads were closed. Fortunately the event organisers had anticipated this and sent a couple of committee members out with a drone the day before. The delegates were able to get a virtual tour of the research stations from the comfort of the Tamworth Town Hall.

The rain was very welcome to pastoralists and cereal grain producers who were struggling with drought this time last year. Unfortunately for the region’s chickpea and faba bean producers, the rain caused disease issues which would heavily reduce their potential yield.

Attending this conference allowed me to learn about new technology within the pulse industry, it also allowed me to make valuable contacts in both industry and research development and extension. I would like to thank the Department of Primary Industry and Resources for giving me the opportunity to attend. For more information, contact Callen Thompson 8973 9724.

Last updated: 20 December 2016