Chickpea has emerged as Australia's most important cool season grain legume, according to the ABARES 2012 season crop data - and new disease-resistant varieties are expected to revive and develop a profitable chickpea industry in Western Australia.
The industry was decimated in the late 1990s by ascochyta blight disease, which thrived in WA's cool and humid conditions. The disease also affected chickpea crops in Victoria.
Three new ascochyta-resistant varieties have recently been released. Of these, two varieties (Ambar and Neelam) were developed by an international chickpea breeding alliance between The University of Western Australia (UWA), the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA), the Council of Grain Growers Organisation (COGGO), and the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The third variety, (PBA Striker), was developed by Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA), a consortium of state government research organisations, industry bodies and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
The new varieties all give high yield and good quality grain.
To enhance the chickpea industry and accelerate the uptake of the disease-resistant varieties in Western Australia, UWA's Institute of Agriculture in association with Pulse Australia has launched a project that is financially supported by the COGGO.
The three new chickpea varieties - Ambar, Neelam and PBA Striker - along with older varieties were sown in partnership with grower groups in demonstration plots at Mullewa, Mingenew, Wubin, Merredin, Kellerberrin and Corrigin during the 2013 growing season.
The trials were sown and managed using broad-acre machinery in collaboration with grower groups and DAFWA.
Project personnel attended a series of field walks and field days to speak to growers about the new opportunities for chickpea production. These demonstration trials enabled hundreds of growers to examine the new varieties first-hand. Each variety, while high yielding and disease resistant, have differing growth structures and characteristics. The demonstration trials will be continued in the 2014 season with the support from COGGO, grower groups and the industry.
More than half a million hectares of chickpea were grown in 2012, mostly in the North Eastern parts of New South Wales and southern Queensland. Chickpea is a high-value grain with on-going and stable demand from the Indian subcontinent, which will absorb any increase in production from Western Australia.