Lupin

24.05.17

Lupins are a member of the Fabaceae family and are a large pulse (sometimes referred to as a grain legume) grown across a diverse range of countries and climates. Australia is the largest producer of lupins, accounting for 85% of world production. Other producers include Belarus, Chile, the European Union and the Russian Federation, however, production in these countries is relatively small compared with Australia.

Overview

There are many different varieties of lupin, each has a different climate and soil need, as well as varying resistance to diseases, weeds and insects. Lupins grow well in Australia, even in poor soils. This is seen in the success of crops grown on the nutrient deficient soils of the Western Australian wheat belt where they are used in a wheat-lupin rotation.

The main varieties of lupins grown in Australia are the narrow leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolus) and the sweet albus lupin (Lupinus albus). The main lupin production areas are Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

Most Australian lupins are used as stock feed for ruminants like cattle, sheep and goats; and to a lesser degree for pigs and poultry. The Australian domestic market for lupins as stock feed is relatively small except in times of drought. The bulk of the crop is exported to Europe, Japan and Korea. A very small portion of lupins are sold for human consumption, although there are encouraging developments in this market in Western Australia.

The industry representative organisation for lupin growers is Pulse Australia. The Grains Research and Development Corporation, funded by grower levy and government funds, invests in research, development and extension for the Australian grains industry, including lupins.

Facts and figures

  • The most popular lupin in Australia is the L.Angustifolus, commonly known as the narrow-leafed lupin, and marketed as Australian Sweet Lupin
  • There are a range of lupin varieties suitable to a range of soil and climate conditions
  • Lupins can be stored easily as they have a hard seed coat and a low moisture content
  • Lupins are primarily used as a stock feed, although there is a growing market for human consumption
  • The export price for Australian Sweet Lupin is firmly driven by the price and market for soymeal

Production status

About 80% of Australia’s lupins are produced in the wheat belt of Western Australia, with the remaining production in the south west slopes of New South Wales and Victoria and in the southern regions of South Australia. Western Australia is also the leading exporter of lupin grain. In 1998, total lupin production in Australia reached  1,249,568 tonnes with 86% produced in Western Australia, 9% in South Australia, 3% in New South Wales and 2% in Victoria. In recent years, production has stabilised to average 700,000 tonnes annually.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

The lupin varieties Angustifolus and Albus have valuable nutritional characteristics. Their high concentrations of protein and energy mean they are recognised internationally as a valuable ingredient in stock feed.

There has been progress within the Australian market in recent years to develop lupin products for human consumption; this has led to a gradual introduction of lupins as an alternative to many soya products.

Angustifolus is the most ideal variety for human consumption with over 500,000 tonnes used in European food products. Lupins contain no starch and have a low glycaemic index providing many dietary benefits. Products entering the market include dairy substitutes like milk, yoghurt and ice-cream, cereals like noodles and pasta, and as a protein additive to meals.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Lupin production in Australia is primarily in the wheatbelt of Western Australia and in areas of South Australia, on sandy acidic soils, and is largely dominated by the Angustifolius variety which makes up 95% of all lupin production. The large majority of the Albus variety is grown in New South Wales and Victoria.

The variety selected will depend on the environmental conditions of the growing region; there are many different varieties that grow well in different conditions and can produce better yields as a result of a number of factors like rainfall and the prevalence of pests and diseases. Lupins are most successful where they receive between 350-450mm of rain annually. This indicates that some of the more profitable varieties do not require high rainfall, in fact, many are prone to lodging and other damage when exposed to excessive water.

Varieties

There are many varieties of Lupin, however, the narrow leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolus) and the sweet albus lupin (Lupinus albus) are the most prolific and successful varieties in Australia.

There is a range of lupin varieties for farmers to choose from and individual research is required to determine the most suitable variety for the environment and end use. Sources of further information on lupin varieties grown in Australia are:

  • Pulse Australia, visit www.pulseaus.com.au
  • National Variety Trials – online database, visit www.nvtonline.com.au
  • State department of primary industries variety guides
  • Companies that market varieties
  • Local advisors and agronomists

Planting and crop management

Lupins grow successfully on a range of different soils, however diseases such as Pleiochaeta can be an issue and a fungicide treatment of seeds prior to sowing is recommended, as soils may contain traces of pests and diseases from previous crops.

When sowing lupins, depth and timing are important considerations. Sowing depth must be measured to facilitate the germination of seeds but will also depend on diseases present in the soil. Understanding the disease profile of the soil and selecting the right sowing depth can help prevent the contamination of new plants. The sowing machinery (seeder) used will need to apply enough tyne break out pressure to penetrate the soil and maintain an even seeding depth.

Lupins need to be inoculated with the rhizobium strain that is suited to the plant. Group G is the correct strain for lupin. The rhizobium will convert soil nitrogen to nitrate to supply to the lupin and leave a substantial residue for a following cereal or oilseed crop. Ideally, lupins should be sown into a moist seedbed to enable the rhizobia, a living organism, to thrive. However, where soil moisture is low or dry, other methods of placing the rhizobia with or near the seed for inoculating the lupin can be used to allow for successful nodulation of the roots and establishment.

If possible, sowing should take place early – generally at the end of April in northern areas of Australia and in early May in the southern areas. Lupins are commonly dry sown using the same tyned machinery as used for cereal crops. No-till techniques can provide for an increase in soil moisture, crop residue retention, mineral retention, less erosion and overall improved soil fertility than soils that undergo high soil disturbance.

Most lupin crops will require phosphorus fertiliser but application and amount will vary according to species, soil type and rainfall. In almost all instances, placing Phosphorus fertilizer in the seed row or beneath the seed row is recommended. In sandy soils, potassium and manganese is also required. Potassium and Managese fertilisers are best applied by spreading on the soil surface before planting.

Manganese can also be applied as a foliar spray at pod formation to alleviate a deficiency. However, a foliar application of manganese will not ameliorate a soil deficiency.

There are a number of risks associated with lupin production that require careful crop management. Lupins have a high risk of lodging and low tolerance of waterlogging. The sowing rate and subsequent plant density of lupin in varying rainfall zones can be varied to suit the production potential and reduce the risk of poor yields in a dry spring.

For more information on growing lupins refer to the Western Australia Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development page on Lupin Essentials; and Pulse Australia’s Lupin page.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Weeds present a challenge during establishment of a lupin crop, particularly in the early stages when seedlings are small. There are a range of herbicides for the control of grass weeds in lupin crops, while sowing practices and timing contributes significantly to achieving effective results.

There are many pests and diseases that can impact lupin yields. Aphids, caterpillars, mites, fleas, slugs and snails can cause damage to lupin crops and can spread disease. Pesticides are important for protecting the crop but be aware that routine use can lead to insecticide resistant pests. Many diseases are species and region specific so it is advised that farmers conduct further investigation into the most common diseases in their area and which lupin varieties would be most suitable.

In recent years there has been a greater focus on cultivating varieties of lupins with improved disease resistance. Weed competition is best achieved through managing plant density and reducing weed numbers prior to planting lupins.

Soil type

Lupins prefer sandy textured loam with pH 4.5-7(water). Saline soils and soils prone to water logging should be avoided. Being a legume, lupins fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, which together with a deep root system, makes them tolerant of infertile soils. Lupins are often a good choice for regaining usability of infertile or disturbed ground.

There is a wide range of lupin varieties available; some varieties are better suited to the varying Australian conditions than others. Angustifolius lupins, for example, are well adapted to deep, sandy acidic soils, but are also grown successfully on well drained duplex, medium textured and mildly alkaline soils. Albus lupins are not suited to sandy soils with a pH of less than 6. Soil type is a major consideration when selecting a lupin variety for production. Most lupin crops will require phosphorus fertiliser but application and amount will vary according to species, soil type and rainfall. For lupins in sandy soils, potassium and manganese are important for yield and grain quality.

Climate

There are lupin varieties available for a range of climate conditions, however, there are no varieties that tolerate frost. The majority of Australian production is during winter and spring when there is sufficient (preferably 350-450mm) but not excessive rainfall.

Lupins are best sown when there has been sufficient rainfall to provide a moist soil profile. Where there has been little to no rainfall at all, dry sowing is recommended. Sowing generally occurs in April to early May, although this can be earlier in areas of low rainfall, and later in areas of high rainfall.

Infrastructure Requirements

Large scale agricultural machinery commonly used for broadacre grain production is suitable for the production of lupin with little need for modification.

The larger seeded Albus lupin may require modifications to seeding and harvesting equipment.

Common equipment includes tractors, cultivation equipment, seeder/disc drills, boom sprayers, combine harvesters (headers), chaser bins and trucks. Some or all of the operations required to produce a lupin crop can be carried out by contractors, in particular the spraying of pesticides and harvesting, which may alleviate some capital investment in the significant amount of machinery required for crop production.

Lupins can be direct harvested, but in some cases windrowing may be more suitable. Open fronts and draper fronts offer flexibility for a broader range of crops, especially when harvesting a heavy or dense crop. Windrowing is also used as a harvest management tool for lupins as it can reduce pod shatter and drop in narrow leafed lupins. A pickup front is more efficient at recovering the windrows than crop lifters.

Grain silos will be required if the grain is to be stored on-farm. Lupins should be stored in low temperature, low humidity silo conditions. Unlike many cereals, lupins have a hard seed shell which provides more resilience to pests and diseases enabling storage for several years.

Harvesting & Processing

Lupins should be harvested soon after reaching maturity as delays can cause yield losses due to lodging, pod shattering and pod drop. Lupins can be harvested using harvesters with conventional headers, but it is recommended that care is taken; many losses are caused by shattering, pod loss or damage to the entire plant passing under the comb.

Other harvesting methods include windrowing which has been reported to reduce shattering losses if the harvest has been delayed and is mostly suitable for short crops.

Once harvested, lupin grain can be sold or stored on farm and sold at a later date. Lupin grain can be stored in bags or silos and storing the grain for sale after harvest can provide increased returns. Lupins are mostly impervious to grain insects, with contamination mostly occurring in harvest trash and weed seeds.

Markets & Marketing

The majority of Australian produced lupins are sold on the domestic market as stock feed in dry seasons with upwards of 70% being exported in good production years. The primary market for lupins is cattle and sheep feed; however, there has been a shift in recent years to expand the market. In 2012, a Western Australian company made significant moves to change the direction of the lupin market to create lupin products for human consumption. Lupin products that are now available include flour, flakes, hull, kibble and splits.

There are several markets and pathways for selling lupin grain in Australia:

  • Sending to a receival station (grain is inspected and the price received is dependent on quality and level of weed and contaminants)
  • Growing and selling under a contract
  • Selling direct to a feedlot
  • Selling direct to other farmers
  • Export markets through a marketer

There are strict regulations and standards for lupin stocks. Each year, Pulse Australia releases an updated document outlining industry receival and exporting standards for pulses including lupins; this document details acceptable standards for lupin quality and details the size of defects and quality issues of entire seed coat and kernel. It also sets out criteria for the presence of foreign material and insects in a sample of grain or seed.

In considering export markets, Pulse Australia reported that in June 2013, the European drought saw the rise in demand for animal feed stocks. This helped increase Australian prices to around AU$300 per tonne. North America also experienced a drought causing a drop in soybean supply, forcing an increase in price which led to a growing demand for Australian lupins. This shows that there can be a close relationship in the trend of soymeal pricing and the trend in lupin pricing. It it is important to acknowledge that this will be heavily dependent on environmental fluctuations in key soybean producing countries.

If considering trading in export markets it is important to understand trading standards and export legislation. Grain Trade Australia provides trading standards for Australian pulses compiled by Pulse Australia to facilitate the Australian pulse industry providing consistent product of the highest quality into the world market. These standards take into account specific overseas country quarantine restrictions (such as prohibited weed seeds, disease status or contaminant levels) or the requirements of the Export Control Act (1982) and its subordinate legislation, however they may not meet all the requirements of the importing country.

Pulse Australia provides a list of organisations that trade in lupins and other pulses on the website under Pulse Traders. This list provides contacts for organisations that are Traders for Australian industries like lupins.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

As with all agricultural pursuits, risk is inherent in lupin production 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 grain
  • commodity prices falling 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 costs of running large equipment, if the crop fails

There are several challenges to the success of a lupin crop, but the impact of disease is probably the most significant. The most effective methods of disease control are careful seed and variety selection where genetic resistance is available. This can help reduce the spread of infected seed and assist the cultivation of a crop that has improved resistance. Growing lupins in a crop rotation can also contain and reduce the prevalence of diseases.

Other challenges include fluctuations in the lupin market. This is a result of supply/demand changes to international export markets for soymeal. Lupins are most closely linked to the global soymeal market because of their value as a vegetable protein source. Lupins are often in strong demand as a stock feed for drought affected areas.

Regulatory considerations

There are regulatory considerations if transporting lupins across state borders within Australia or if exporting to another country.

Restrictions on the movement of lupins suspected of carrying anthracnose have been detailed in a document by Agriculture Victoria. This document outlines the regulations and measures in place that are designed to prevent the spread of the disease. The local state department of agriculture should be consulted for specific information on regulations for the transport and sale of lupins across state borders.

If exporting, standards and regulations pertaining to Australian export rules and the import rules for the intended country will apply. Individual commodity traders must ensure that they comply with specific country import and compliance requirements. For further information on Australian export regulations refer to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources page Exporting from Australia. For further information on the importing requirements for other countries refer to the Department of Agriculture’s Manual of Importing Country Requirements.

Publications

Publications/information

Lupin Essentials – The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia

Lupins – Pulse Australia

Desiccation and Croptopping in Pulses – Pulse Australia

Pulse Inoculation Techniques – Pulse Australia

Receival & Trading Standards – Pulse Australia

Pulse Point: Dry Sowing – New South Wales Department of Primary Industries

Farm Note: Grain Storage – The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia

Winter crops – Department of Primary Industries New South Wales

Pollination Aware – Lupins AgriFutures Australia

Other resources

National Variety Trials Online

National Variety Trials: Variety Information – GRDC

Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre – Is an inititative of the Western Australia state government and GRDC.

Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Image Gallery

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Flowering narrow leafed lupins (source Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development WA)

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Harvesting a lupin crop (source Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development WA)