Surprise profits from lupins

The break crop becomes a big earner for Culcairn growers

Cropping
Damien Schneider with this year's Albus lupin crop, sown in late April at his Culcairn property on the Olympic Highway. Last year's lupin crop yielded 2t/hectare and prices reached $1100/t, making it his most profitable crop.

Damien Schneider with this year's Albus lupin crop, sown in late April at his Culcairn property on the Olympic Highway. Last year's lupin crop yielded 2t/hectare and prices reached $1100/t, making it his most profitable crop.

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Culcairn crop yielded 2t/ha and sold for $1100/t.

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Damien Schneider of Culcairn has been growing Albus lupins for the past 10 years but last year they did something he never expected, they made him a significant profit.

"This should be your lowest income crop but it was our highest gross margin by a long way last year," Mr Schneider said.

"Even with a dry finish they went two tonnes per hectare, which I was ecstatic about, I didn't expect that, but the main thing was the price, it went through the roof.

"At harvest time it jumped to $1100/t, most of the demand came from Egypt."

Mr Schneider said he started planting the Albus variety because it can be sold for human consumption, meaning a premium price is possible. But he said their main benefit was agronomic.

"Like a lot of people with pulses, we don't plan on making a big windfall, we use it as break crop and to benefit from the nitrogen that they put back into the soil the following year," Mr Schneider said.

"If the crop fails and I harvest nothing at least I know that next year I should have a really good start.

"This year we sowed lupins after a wheat and we follow up this with a canola crop and then we have a double break before the cereals."

He said lupins were famously finicky to grow, but disc seeding, weed control, stubble retention and proactive pest control helped.

"I leave a big stubble to help conserve the moisture and protect the seedlings before they get up and going," Mr Schneider said.

"You've got to keep zero weed tolerance over summer because in a dry year like this that can be the difference between getting something and getting nothing.

"Pest monitoring is also one of the major things now, lupins are like a canary in a coal mine for attracting grubs and the buyers don't like holes in the seed so you could lose your market just like that."

He said he used predator friendly herbicide if he just had aphids so he could retain the bees that do a good job pollinating the crop, but helicoverpa caterpillars had become a problem.

"Those herbicides don't work for caterpillars so I spray at night time when the bees are away, but there's a small residual," he said.

Mr Schneider said harvesting lupins could also be a challenge.

"The minute they're ready you've got to stop whatever you're harvesting and get onto them before they get too brittle," he said.

"You can't harvest them in the heat of the day, it's got to be at night or after rain.

"They keep you on your toes but it just becomes part of farm management."

He said this year he was hoping to harvest around one tonne per hectare but it was unknown if prices could match last year's heights.

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