Pulse crops could be farmers’ best weapon against sky-rocketing fertiliser prices, with the organic nitrogen they put back into the soil allowing growers to cut back on their urea bills. 

Pulses, including faba beans, lentils, lupins and field peas, are notoriously hard to grow and are known for selling into erratic markets.

But an increasing number of farmers have been including them in their rotations because they’re a source of organic nitrogen and help with weed control. 

Instead of mining the soil of nitrogen like Australia’s mainstay crops — barley, wheat, and canola — they leave nitrogen behind ready for the next crop to take advantage of.

This is set to become particularly important next year, with the price of nitrogen-fixing fertiliser urea rising to a 13-year-high.

Thomas Elder urea graph

Urea prices have reached a 13-year-high, rising closer to $1000/mt.(Supplied: Thomas Elder )

Savings on sky-high fertiliser bills

In the last five years, faba beans have become a staple in Lockhart growers Mark and Mandy Bowyer’s cropping rotation.

They are placing the long-term benefits of crops like pulses, ahead of short-term profits.

Mr Bowyer thinks the pulse crop could save them around $150 a hectare on urea next year.

“We’re basically a 100 per cent cropping operation so we needed to bring some pulse crops in just to bring another nitrogen source in, rather than just relying on urea year in year out,” Mr Bowyer said.  

Faba bean almost ready to harvest

Faba beans are ready to harvest when a black line appears on the pod. (ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

On-farm storage offers more market stability 

On-farm storage has become a crucial factor for pulse growers, allowing them to ride out the ups and downs of the market. 

“It’s a real issue – we’re only just selling all of last year’s faba beans.

“The last couple of years most of our beans have gone into stock feed mills.”

Faba bean close up

Faba bean crops are almost ready to harvest and yields are expected to be above average. (ABC Riverina: Olivia Calver)

Mr Bowyer will harvest the beans in the coming weeks and is expecting above-average yields after another good season.  

“Quite a few bean crops last year were doing four tonnes to the hectare, which I’ve never seen before. I don’t think they’ll be quite there this year.”

Growers no longer ‘chasing rainbows’

Grassroots agronomist Greg Condon said more growers were adopting a long-term approach for their rotations. 

“Growers that have stable rotations tend not to ‘chase rainbows’ as we say, they have a plan. They don’t jump from crop to crop depending on what prices or rainfall patterns are doing,” Mr Condon said. 

Posted , updated 

With this crop, what’s left in the soil proves to be almost as valuable as what’s harvested
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