Azuki Beans

24.05.17

Overview

The azuki bean (Vigna angularis), also known as the adzuki bean or aduki bean, is widely grown throughout East Asia and the Himalayas for its small bean, approximately five millimetres long. They are a short season, summer crop (120 days from growing to harvest) and can be double cropped with cereals. The plant grows from 0.3 to 0.6 metres high and have yellow flowers. The cultivars most commonly grown have a uniform red coloured seed and with a distinctive white ridge on one side. However, white, black, grey and variously mottled-coloured varieties are also known.

The major global producers of azuki beans are Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan. The beans were first introduced to Australia in the 1970s and are produced in southern and central Queensland, the north coast of New South Wales and irrigated regions of southern and central New South Wales. It is a minor crop in Australia, on average producing less than 5,000 tonnes per year. Azuki beans are considered more demanding to produce than soybeans and mungbeans, and require more inputs than these crops.

Most of the beans produced in Australia are exported to volatile markets either in Japan, China or Taiwan where the beans are used to make a sweetened paste (ahn) that is made into a selection of products such as traditional confectionary (Wagashi), cakes and buns. A small proportion (approximately 800t, as at 2014) is used in the domestic market to produce similar products for the Asian community.

The azuki bean industry is very small in Australia and its operations are overseen by Pulse Australia, the peak industry body.

Facts and figures

  • Azuki beans are a short season, summer pulse crop, they are a minor crop (less than 5000t) in Australia
  • They are grown in southern and central Queensland, the north coast of New South Wales and irrigated regions of southern and central New South Wales
  • They require good farmer skill level for production, they require more management and inputs than soybeans to produce
  • Azuki beans are a high value pulse, marketed mainly into Japan but the Japanese markets can be volatile

Production status

Azuki beans are a summer growing pulse crop that is produced in southern and central Queensland, the north coast of New South Wales and irrigated regions of southern and central New South Wales. It is a minor crop in Australia, producing on average under 5,000t a year.

Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

The beans are used to make several Japanese products which use a sweetened paste (ahn) that is then made into a selection of products such as traditional confectionary (Wagashi), cakes and buns.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Azuki beans are grown in southern and central Queensland, the north coast of New South Wales and irrigated regions of southern and central New South Wales. In New South Wales, the river valleys of the southern and central slopes are considered the best environments for growing azuki beans. Areas further west become too warm during crop maturity for growers to meet quality targets and cold tableland areas retard the growth of the beans.

Soil type

Azuki beans are shallow rooted and do not nodulate well, therefore they grow best on alluvial river soils and sandy loams, similar to soils preferred for lucerne production. If they are to be grown under irrigation, well-drained soils should be selected as they do not tolerate waterlogged conditions. Azuki beans do not perform well in heavy clays and these soil types are best avoided. Soils with a pH less than 5.5 (CaCl2) should either be limed or avoided.

Climate

Azuki beans are a summer species and therefore do not tolerate frost. Minimum temperatures in the range of 10–14°C are recommended as ideal ripening conditions to promote large, pale azuki beans. If temperatures are consistently below 10°C it will slow plant development.

Varieties

Erimo, a variety of azuki bean bred in Japan, is the most commonly grown variety in Australia. There have been Australian varieties developed in the past: Bloodwood and Dainagon but there is little or no production of these types as at 2014.

Planting and crop management

The germination percentage of sowing seed should be checked before planting and adjusted for the desired target plant population. As azuki beans are a legume they require inoculation with the appropriate rhizobium strain to enable them to fix atmospheric nitrogen for the plants use. Further nitrogen application has been shown to be of advantage as the beans are poor nodulators.

Crops are best sown on narrow rows of less than 30 centimetres in irrigated systems, which produces taller plants and makes for easier harvesting. Target plant populations should be within 40–70 plants/m2. Seeds should be sown into good moisture at a depth of between 3–5cm. Azuki beans can be sown with a conventional combine or air seeder.

The optimum sowing time is a compromise between sowing early enough to have a crop mature before winter and late enough to achieve high quality seed. The growing period of azukis ranges from 80 days in the warmer northern climates to 140 days in the cooler climates.

Irrigation can be applied via overhead sprinklers or flood irrigation. Water application and plant usage should be monitored to ensure effective water use.

For further information on azuki bean planting and management refer to the RIRDC publication The New Crop Industries Handbook and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ publication Azuki beans: irrigated planting guide 2004–2005.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Azuki beans are slow growing initially so need to be sown into a weed-free seedbed. There is a limited range of registered chemicals, so new growers should seek expert advice about weed management.

The beans are vulnerable to insect attack, especially leaf and pod eating caterpillars such as heliothis, lucerne seed web moth and bean pod-borer. The most significant of these is bean pod-borer. Other problem pests include green vegetable bug, thrips, aphids, bean fly and mites. An integrated pest management plan should be adopted by growers. The crops should be checked regularly for insects throughout their growing cycle, with an increase in inspection from flowering onwards.

The diseases sclerotinia and powdery mildew can cause problems for azuki bean production. A crop rotation is generally used to assist in the management of sclerotinia and appropriately registered fungicides may be used.

For further information on weed, pests and diseases of azuki beans refer to RIRDC publication The New Crop Industries Handbook and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ publication Azuki beans: irrigated planting guide 2004–2005. Advisors or agronomists should also be consulted for the up to date information.

Infrastructure Requirements

A successful soybean enterprise will require large-scale broadacre cropping machinery, including:

  • tractors
  • cultivation equipment
  • seeder/disc drills
  • boom sprayers for herbicide and insecticide application
  • irrigation equipment and soil moisture monitoring equipment
  • combine harvesters (headers)
  • chaser bins and grain trucks
  • grain silos — if soybeans are to be stored on farm for any period.

Some or all of the operations required to produce a soybean crop can be carried out by contractors, which may alleviate some capital investment in the significant amount of equipment required for crop production.

Harvesting & Processing

Under the appropriate conditions azuki beans will mature quite quickly, however they tend to be indeterminate and may require desiccation or windrowing but most crops are direct headed. A conventional harvester can be used but rotary headers do a better job and will generally result in fewer cracked grains. Seed moisture at harvest needs to be about 20–25% to prevent the beans from splitting. Grain handling after harvesting should be minimised to reduce the risk of damaging the seed.

Japanese buyers look for a uniform sample with large seed (120–160 milligrams) with a pale, bright colour. Seed must be graded to ensure uniformity and that it is free from contaminants. The beans may be polished once or twice to add value before they are marketed. Cool storage should be used for storage longer than six months otherwise azuki beans will darken and deteriorate.

Markets & marketing

Most growers of azuki beans produce the bean on contract. The majority of the beans produced in Australia are exported to markets in Japan, China and Taiwan which are very volatile. A small amount is processed domestically for domestic consumption. The colour and lustre of the beans are important marketing characteristics.

Grain Trade Australia holds standards for receival of farmer dressed seed and the export standard for machine dressed azuki grain.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

As with all agricultural pursuits, risk is inherent in growing adzuki beans and can include:

  • the crop failing to establish or mature properly due to adverse weather events, thus resulting in reduced harvest tonnage and/or poor quality product
  • commodity prices failing during the growth period impacting on the returns projected at planting
  • ·not recouping the costs of inputs and capital invested in the crop, like fertiliser or the cost of running large equipment if the crop fails.

The major risk that growers entering the azuki bean market face is access to correct production information and they are encouraged to discuss their interests with an experienced Azuki bean agronomist. Access to registered herbicides for azuki beans is another area of challenge for growers.

The markets for azuki beans are very volatile and growers are encouraged to produce beans under contract.

Regulatory considerations

Apart from the regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian grain farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading/unloading of harvested grain), there are no regulations that are specific to azuki operations. More information about laws and regulations affecting azuki growers (and grain growers generally) can be obtained from the relevant government authority. Information and advice can also be sought from the relevant state farming organisation, some of which are listed on the National Farmers Federation website or Grain Producers Australia.

Publications

Publications/ information products

Azuki beans: irrigated planting guide 2004–2005 NSW Department of Primary Industry publication (2005)

The New Crop Industries Handbook RIRDC publication (2004)

Seed quality of Azuki and kintoki bean RIRDC publication (2001)

Other resources

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is the statutory body that registers all agricultural and veterinary chemical products used in the Australian marketplace

Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council  the Australian independent authority on the nutrition and health benefits of grains and legumes.

Grain Trade Australia– works to ensure the efficient facilitation of commercial activities across the grain supply chain