Pulses in the North Central- another profitable break crop?

Demi Taylor

Results from BCG’s pulse trials have been released for 2023, and key messages from the North Central trials highlight that: 

  • Lentils were the most profitable pulse crop in 2023. 
  • GIA Thunder, an imidazolinone tolerant lentil variety, was the best performing variety in the North Central region for 2023. 
  • Lentil and field pea yields in the North Central region were comparable to that of the Mallee.  

In the North Central region, growers have typically used canola and vetch as a break crop. However, there is an increasing need for another profitable break crop. The reason grain pulses have not been well adopted in this area is tough soil constraints, including acidity and salinity.  

These trials help to demonstrate pulse variety performance in areas where pulses are widely grown and the possibility of profitability pushing crop types, such as lentils and field peas, into more unsuitable areas.


Lentils in the North Central  

The North Central lentil trial site, located at Pyramid Hill, averaged 1.7 t/ha (similar to the Mallee NVT site average of 1.8 t/ha). However, caution must be taken when comparing region averages in 2023 as rainfall, trial design and varieties differed between sites. In saying that, this season did demonstrate the ability to grow lentils in a more marginal soil type with slightly above average rainfall. 

In the North Central region, GIA Thunder (2.1 t/ha) and PBA Hallmark XT (2.0 t/ha) were the top performers, yielding more than 120 per cent above the site average. GIA Thunder has shown great adaptation to a range of soil types, performing well on sandy and clay soils.  

Field peas in the North Central 

The field pea trial site at Pyramid Hill averaged 2.6 t/ha, yielding slightly better than the Mallee NVT sites average of 2.4 t/ha. Again, caution must be taken when comparing region averages in 2023 as rainfall, number of trials and varieties were different across the sites. 

At Pyramid Hill in 2023, variety choice seemed to be less important for grain as there were no significant differences between varieties for grain yields. In terms of hay yields however, there was a difference, with PBA Hayman, breeding line OZP2103 and APB Bondi producing the largest biomass (yielding more than 3 t/ha). Twilight was the worst performer in the trial, producing only 2.3 t/ha.  

OZP2103 and APB Bondi may be good dual-purpose options for the future, producing good grain and hay yields in 2023.  

On-farm profitability  

Lentil and field peas were highly profitable in the North Central region in 2023. Given the high price of lentils, they were the most profitable crop, providing similar returns to growers from both the North Central and Mallee regions.  

End-use had little impact on profitability in field peas, with similar returns from hay and grain. Lentils, however, are higher risk in the North Central due to their intolerance to salinity; yield was affected in soils testing above 2dS/m (Katerji et al., 2001).  

Consistent rain during 2023 at Pyramid Hill meant crops did not have to rely on deeper and more saline subsoil moisture. Therefore, in a drier year, there might be bigger yield penalties.  

If considering growing lentils, it is crucial for growers to carry out soil sampling pre-sowing and ensure salinity is less than 2dS/m in the top 40-60cm. Field peas present a slightly lower risk option due to their dual-purpose ability.  

Commercial practice: variety selection and crop rotation

Variety selection is an important consideration for all crop types, including lentils and field peas. When considering changing a variety, long-term performance must be considered instead of changing over on the basis of yield results for a single year.  

When making a crop rotation decision, it is important to consider a range of factors, including logistics. Small areas of pulses sown in the overall farming system may allow for some risk to be spread, as well as improving some operational flexibility. The potential benefits from a pulse crop, while difficult to quantify, should not be dismissed, particularly for residual nitrogen and for managing weeds and disease.  

Full Results  

This information was written by BCG Research Agronomist, Angus Butterfield, and was sourced from BCG’s 2023 Season Research Results report. The report is available to members only and contains full results and corresponding data from all of BCG’s 2023 trials. You can access the full research report by signing up here to become a member. 

For more agronomic information and profitable solutions for grain legume growers across Victoria, please visit the Grain Legume Extension Hub and select your region to learn more.


This research was funded by GRDC and Agriculture Victoria (DJP2105-006RTX), in partnership with Southern Farming Systems, BCG, Frontier Farming and FAR Australia.  

Research was conducted through the National Variety Trial (NVT) program delivered by the GRDC. Thank you to Harm van Rees, CropFacts, for providing a technical review of the full version of this article, available via https://www.bcg.org.au/research-results/  

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