Work to improve the heat tolerance of chickpeas has sparked the interest of grain growers in northern Australia. Imported breeding lines indicate the legume’s planting window could be pushed into late summer.
With investment from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and theAustralian Research Council (ARC), the University of Sydney obtained a diverse collection of chickpea lines from ‘hot and dry’ regions around the world, through the Australian Grains Genebank.
A selection from this group of chickpea lines was crossed with Australian cultivars and the offspring was tested for how they perform when planted in late summer. Dr Angela Pattison, based in Narrabri New South Wales, says northern growers want more options when it comes to summer pulses.
“The changing climate is inevitable, so it’s important the industry is looking at how to respond to that and give growers options to maintain their productivity in the warmer months”, she points out. “I had heard a lot of feedback from growers that they wanted another summer pulse option besides mungbeans, which can be variable and difficult in the northern region.”
Dr Pattison explains that researchers looked at countries around the world who have successfully grown chickpeas outside of the cooler months of the year, to see whether they could make that work for the northern region of Australia. Trials across the northern region will determine whether planting chickpeas in the warmer months could be economically viable for growers and if so, under what conditions.
Funding from GRDC has allowed the University of Sydney to conduct trials across the northern region of Australia. The trials will be conducted over two years across five sites in the northern grain growing region, including Gunnedah, Narrabri, Emerald, Toowoomba and Gatton.
“It’s great we’re able to use the trials to test out which environments could support chickpeas in the warmer months”, Dr Pattison says. “Planting in late summer means it would be a shorter, less forgiving window for growers compared to winter and it’s crucial that the plants are finished before it gets too cold.”
The first year of trials has been successful. Dr Pattison says the leading varieties have responded well. But there’s still extensive agronomic testing that needs to be done before growers can implement the research.
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The success of summer chickpeas will rely on significant grower consultation to see how they might manage the shorter window on farm. “While the crops are showing a lot of promise, we still need to do a lot of agronomic testing on the breeding lines, looking at things like disease resistance, sowing density, viable planting windows and the appropriate spray out regime”, Dr Pattison says.
A key element of the success of this will rely on collaborating with growers
She emphasises that the project is really left field and has some risks for growers in terms of the summer crop creating an opportunity for a green bridge. “But I think we can overcome this if it’s done right. A key element of the success of this will rely on collaborating with growers – trialling how this could work on farm and how to manage the short window so it works with their production.”
GRDC Senior Manager Genetic Technology, Juan Juttner, says it is essential that GRDC continues to invest in projects like Dr Pattison’s. “It is aimed to improve the diversity of cropping options and sowing windows for growers. We want to continue to provide growers the opportunity to maximise their profitability and productivity throughout the entire year. While this work is in its early stages, we want to continue investigating viable options for growers to respond to the changing climate and work with environmental conditions.”