Best management guide
Lentil production: southern region
Lentil (Lens culinaris) is an established, high value pulse crop, first grown commercially in Australia during the early 1990s. They are mainly grown in the semi-arid regions of Victoria and South Australia with winter dominant rainfall patterns. Lentil consumption in Australia is gradually increasing however it is widely grown and consumed throughout the Mediterranean, the Indian subcontinent, southern Asia and northern America.
Australia’s lentil industry has benefited from the release of ever-improving varieties offering wider adaption and improved agronomic features, plant physiology, plant architecture and yield. These varieties, along with improved crop management techniques, provide growers with the confidence to grow this high value crop. Lentil usually commands a premium price compared to other pulse crops, such as peas and beans, with many world markets demanding human consumption grade lentil. Lentil have recently sustained high grain prices of $800–1200 /t during 2014 and 2015 due to short world supply.
Although lentil prices are often higher than most other pulses, they can be volatile due to fluctuating production world-wide, particularly with countries that export close to 100 per cent of their crop production, including Canada and Australia. In addition to changes in world demand and carry-over surpluses, there is a significant price drop and potential lack of livestock feed markets available to growers for grain that fails to meet human consumption grade.
Lentil varieties differ physiologically by seed size, seed coat colour, kernel (cotyledon) colour and time to maturity. Australia is a significant producer of red lentil and the area planted to green lentil is gradually increasing, as is the area of specialty lentils such as ‘Duy’, ‘Black’ and ‘Spanish’.
Green lentils have a green to brown seed coat and yellow kernel (e.g. PBA Greenfield).
Red lentils have seed coats wide-ranging in colour and a characteristic red kernel.
Red lentil 'footballs' prior to splitting.
Red lentil, sometimes known as ‘small’ or ‘Persian’ lentil, is the most widely grown in Australia. They are sold split for cooking (Masur dhal). The name ‘red lentil’ is derived from the red kernel (cotyledon) colour, which is exposed when split and the seed coat removed. The seed coat colour varies from light grey, through brown to black, and may be speckled. Seed size is generally 4–6 mm in diameter, and red lentil varieties are classified as either small, medium or large-seeded types.
Green lentil, also known as ‘large’ or ‘Chilean’ lentil, are used whole for cooking. The seed coat is green to brown and the kernel (cotyledon) is yellow. Seed size is generally 4.5–8 mm in diameter.
Red and green lentil grain should not be mixed, nor should red lentil of different size categories (small, medium and large).
Niche varieties for restaurant and specialist uses have been developed and locally-adapted varieties of these types are grown in small quantities under contract. These include Spanish brown, French green (verde, du puy), black seeded (‘beluga’) and zero tannin types. Local and export market niches may exist or need to be developed for these types.
Place in the rotation
Lentil is a versatile and lucrative pulse crop in Australia that offers a number of rotational and financial benefits in many cropping systems.
Plan a crop sequence that considers herbicide carryover, weed seed control, disease breaks and cultivation practices that might affect ease of harvest, including rolling lentil, to ensure the lentil crop maximises its contribution to the overall productivity and profitability of the cropping rotation.
Lentil is adapted to all well-drained soil types, from sand to clay loam. Lentil does not tolerate flooding or waterlogged soils, and do best on deep, sandy loams high in phosphorus and potassium. Lentil plants will die if exposed to even short periods waterlogging or flooding. A soil pH near 7.0 is best for lentil production.
Well nodulated lentil plants fix their own nitrogen although they contribute less total nitrogen to the soil through fixation than faba bean, field pea or lupin crops, being more similar to chickpea. Grass-free lentil crops provide an effective break from cereal root disease, including take-all, cereal cyst nematode (CCN) and rhizoctonia. Lentil crops are susceptible to some seed or stubble-borne diseases, including ascochyta blight and botrytis grey mould.
Lentil plants do not compete strongly with weeds but there are crop production practices and weed control options available to ensure effective weed control. To avoid seed contamination at harvest, do not sow lentil into paddocks with a history of vetch. Other pulses are more easily cleaned from lentil seed. Cereal grains are not easily cleaned from lentil grain so self-sown cereals must be removed from lentil crops using grass herbicides.
Like other broadleaf crops, most lentil varieties are particularly sensitive to soil carryover residues of Group B herbicides such as sulfonylurea (SU) and imidazolinone (IMI) and Group I herbicides such as clopyralid and picloram. Not all labels include lentil in the plant-back details, so extra caution and advice from the manufacturer or your advisor is recommended after using these herbicides. The recently released varieties PBA Hurricane XT and PBA Herald XT varieties show less sensitivity to sulfonylurea and imidazolinone (Group B) herbicide carryover residues from previous crop applications.
Both PBA Hurricane XT and PBA Herald XT have herbicidal tolerance to imazethapyr when applied pre or post-emergence as per APVMA PER14369. They also have improved tolerance to flumetsulam when applied in-crop. In conventional lentil varieties flumetsulam applied according to label directions may cause height reduction, crop discolouration, delayed flowering and yield loss. When flumetsulam is applied to PBA Herald XT or PBA Hurricane XT according to label directions the risk of crop damage and yield loss is minimised.
Weed control options and rotation safety is therefore improved for lentil, but only for these two varieties. Growers must adhere to permits, product label rates, plant-back periods and all label directions for use
Regardless of the reason why lentil is incorporated into a cropping system, it is recommended that growers follow the recommendations provided in this guide wherever possible to optimise the crop’s performance.
Keys to successful production
- Select paddocks for lentil carefully. Choose free draining soil with pH around neutral to alkaline, with minimal sodicity, salinity and boron toxicity. Herbicide residues need to be considered, as well as likely weed presence and the weed control options available.
- Lentil requires adequate moisture to grow tall enough to be harvestable. Sowing systems that retain stubble help to reduce evaporation losses from the soil. Inter-row sowing into standing cereal stubble helps lentil plants to grow tall and erect, making harvest more efficient.
- Variety choice needs to match the maturity, disease resistance, sowing time and farming system used. Keep the market type, end user and delivery point in mind when selecting varieties. Consider forward contracts if on-farm storage is not available.
- Always use quality seed and do not sow too shallow or deep (5–8 cm sowing depth is recommended).
- Sowing on time (late April–May) is important to maximise yields in drier situations.
- In wetter situations in southern Australia, lentil can be sown much later (to mid spring) without significantly affecting yield. Increase the sowing rate if sowing is very late.
- Use a sowing rate that is likely to achieve a plant density of 120 plants/m2 (approximately 50–60 kg seed/ha).
- Inoculate with group E rhizobia and supply adequate nutrition (fertiliser).
- Manage pests and weeds during the crop’s establishment and early growth. Monitor crops regularly for pests.
- Control foliar diseases through careful paddock selection (avoiding recent pathogen inoculum), crop canopy management and strategic fungicide applications as required.
- High humidity and excessive rainfall during the growing season encourages vegetative growth, which limits yield and can reduce seed quality.
- Excessive drought and/or high temperatures during flowering and pod-fill also reduce yields.
- Harvest as soon as the crop is mature. Lentil crops can turn brittle once fully matured and can be prone to shattering, especially following summer rainfall.
- To maximise grain quality, handle the seed carefully and avoid equipment blockages.
- Harvest during cooler conditions to improve harvest efficiency and reduce the risk of fire.
- Consider on-farm storage of lentil grain to enable access to more lucrative markets after harvest.
Lentil is a high quality human consumption product with limited options for grain that does not meet the expectations of buyers. To achieve the high quality grain required involves careful planning and attention to detail throughout the cropping season. See also 'Meeting lentil market requirements'.
Lentil plants are hypogeal, like field pea (shown in the figure below), which means the cotyledons of the germinating seed remain below the ground and inside the seed coat. Seedlings with hypogeal emergence are less likely to be killed by frost, wind erosion or insect attack as new stems can develop from buds at nodes at or below ground level. Their growth may however be slowed considerably.
Lentil plants are slender, semi-erect, bushy annuals with compound leaves (4 to 7 pairs of leaflets), similar to vetch leaves, with a tendril at each tip. Plants can have single stems or many branches, depending upon the population in the field. The many stems of a lentil plant originate from near the ground and are better supported where the crop is sown inter-row, between the rows of last season’s cereal stubble.
Plants normally range from 30 to 50 cm in height. Plants generally grow taller when the growing season temperatures are cool and there is good moisture and good soil fertility. Despite their relatively short plant height, many crops lodge late in spring due to their weak stems, particularly if well grown with high crop biomass and high yields.
Flowering begins on the lowest branches, gradually moving up the plant and continuing until harvest. Flowers can be white, lilac or pale blue in color and are self-pollinated. Lentil plants flower profusely over a short period and set many pods, with each pod containing one or two seeds depending on the growing season conditions. Because of their indeterminate growth habit it is possible to find flowers, immature pods and mature pods on a plant at the same time, meaning that crop desiccation may be required as an aid to harvest.
Seeds are small in comparison with other pulses and are a characteristic lens shape.
Hypogeal emergence protects lentil seedlings from the effects of frost and insect damage at crop establishment.
Flowering begins on the lowest branches, gradually moving up the plant and continuing until harvest.
Sowing lentils between rows of cereal stubble helps prevent lodging and improves harvest efficiency.
Lentils grown in Australia are divided into two groups based on seed size and cotyledon colour. Each group has distinct end uses and markets.
Be aware of the necessity to market on a variety basis and ensure that complete variety segregation occurs to avoid variety contamination. Careful planning and management is required to minimise risks of cross-contamination when changing varieties grown. See also ‘Lentil: Variety cross contamination’.
Price premiums for small-seeded types (e.g. PBA Hurricane XT and Nipper) or large-seeded types (e.g. PBA Jumbo2, PBA Jumbo and Aldinga) have occurred in the past, as well as discounts based on supply and market size or demand (e.g. Aldinga).
Varieties with ascochyta blight and botrytis grey mould resistance, including PBA Ace, PBA Herald XT and PBA Jumbo2, are suited to localities prone to foliar diseases. PBA Blitz, PBA Bolt and PBA Flash are earlier maturing than some older varieties and suit shorter growing season areas or delayed sowing. PBA Hurricane XT, Herald XT, PBA Bounty are small-seeded red lentils that also handle a quick seasonal finish. PBA Jumbo2 and PBA Jumbo have supersede Aldinga as large-seeded red lentils. PBA Hurricane XT and PBA Herald XT are agronomically similar to Nipper but have improved herbicide tolerance to applied flumetsulan and residuals of some ‘SU’ and ‘imi’ herbicides. See also ‘Residual herbicide and weed control'.
PBA Greenfield and Boomer are medium-sized green lentils with improved seed size, growth and disease resistance over Matilda. Tiara, a long season green lentil with very large seed size, is not widely grown and is only suitable for spring sowing in high rainfall areas. PBA Giant is the only large-sized green lentil variety, which opens up new market opportunities for growers.
The most widely grown red lentil variety was Nugget, but newer releases offer a range of improved and different agronomic, grain size or colour (hence marketing) and disease resistance profiles. Red and green lentils are classified on their seed size and shape (see table below).
Be aware of the necessity to market on a variety basis and ensure that complete variety segregation occurs to avoid variety contamination. Careful planning and management is required to minimise risks of cross-contamination when changing varieties grown. See also ‘Lentil: Variety cross-contamination’.
Red lentil varieties
When choosing a variety, consider the disease risk, seasonal outlook and market forecast. The agronomic traits of the current red lentil varieties are provided below along with yield, diseases resistance and seed availability comparisons. The variety management package (VMP) for each variety provides more detailed information.
PBA Blitz is suited to all current lentil growing areas. It is particularly suited to shorter-season areas where its combination of mid-early flowering, early maturity, high yield, disease resistance and medium to large seed size will improve lentil reliability and economics of production. PBA Blitz is the earliest maturing lentil variety and the best option where croptopping and/or delayed sowing are practiced. PBA Blitz has improved early vigour over all other red lentil varieties and has an erect plant type. It is rated as resistant to foliar, and moderately resistant to seed, AB and moderately resistant to BGM, similar to Nugget and greater than PBA Flash. It is well suited to no-till and inter-row sowing into standing residue. PBA Blitz is a medium-sized red lentil that is larger than PBA Flash and Nugget, with a grey coloured seed coat. PBA Blitz variety management package (VMP)
PBA Bounty has a similar seed size to PBA Hurricane XT, Nipper and Northfield. Although its disease resistance is less than Nipper, PBA Bounty is moderately resistant / moderately susceptible to AB, moderately susceptible to BGM and has improved tolerance to salinity, similar to PBA Bolt and PBA Flash and greater than Nugget. PBA Bounty will be particularly suited to growers who can benefit from the higher prices that potentially exist for a quality small-seeded red lentil, without compromising yield. PBA Bounty produces a round seed that is slightly larger (10%) than PBA Hearld XT and Nipper but still sold into similar markets for splitting or the production of ‘footballs’, where the seed is kept whole after the seed coat is removed. PBA Bounty has a more prostrate plant growth habit early in the season than all other varieties. PBA Bounty variety management package (VMP)
PBA Flash is an early flowering, red lentil with a medium seed size. It is suited to all current lentil growing areas but is particularly suited to shorter season regions. Its higher yields and earlier maturity improves yield reliability, especially in lower yielding situations. Earlier maturation also makes PBA Flash a variety that is well suited to timely croptopping to control weed seed set. It is moderately susceptible to AB, susceptible to BGM and has improved tolerance to boron and salinity compared to Nugget. PBA Flash has improved standing ability at maturity relative to other lentil varieties, which makes for efficient harvesting. It may be more prone to pod drop in hot, windy conditions, so timely harvest is required. PBA Flash is well suited to medium red lentil grain markets, similar to PBA Ace, PBA Bolt and Nugget, particularly for splitting. Where its seed is large enough, PBA Flash can be sold into markets that traditionally take large-seeded types like Aldinga. PBA Flash generally has a smaller grain than Aldinga and PBA Jumbo and should never be considered as a replacement for Aldinga when marketing. PBA Flash variety management package (VMP)
PBA Herald XT is a mid-late flowering and maturing lentil similar to Nipper in many agronomic characteristics, including short height, small seed size and grey seed coat colour. It is resistant to ascochyta blight (AB) and moderately resistant to botrytis grey mould (BGM). PBA Herald XT was released as a ‘herbicide tolerant’ lentil (XT) because it has shown improved tolerance to applied flumetsulam (e.g. Broadstrike®) applied at the registered rate for lentil. It also has improved tolerance to residues of some sulphonyl urea (SU) and imi herbicides, but plant-backs will not change on the relevant herbicide labels. Crop safety is increased with this variety. Imazethapyr (e.g. Spinnaker®) can be used on PBA Herald XT only under an APVMA permit. PBA Herald XT variety management package (VMP)
PBA Hurricane XT is the second lentil variety to be released with improved tolerance to the herbicide imazethapyr. It has a reasonable disease profile in that it has been rated MR to ascochyta blight (AB) and MR/MS for botrytis grey mould (BGM), but will require protection for BGM in disease prone areas, particularly in early sown crops. Plant height and early vigour are improved over Nipper and PBA Herald XT, along with improved weed competition and harvestability. From long-term NVT results, PBA Hurricane XT is the highest yielding of the small red lentils. Crop safety is increased with this variety. Imazethapyr (e.g. Spinnaker®) can be used on PBA Hurricane XT only under an APVMA permit.PBA Hurricane XT variety management package (VMP)
PBA Jumbo is a large-seeded red lentil and a direct replacement for Aldinga and is to be itself superseded by PBA Jumbo2. It is suited to most current lentil growing areas where it has consistently yielded around 15% higher than Aldinga. Attaining larger seed size is more likely in medium to high rainfall zones. PBA Jumbo is moderately susceptible to BGM and this disease will need to be managed in BGM-prone areas. Its resistance to foliar and seed AB is improved over Aldinga. Plant type and lodging susceptibility is similar to PBA Jumbo2 and Aldinga and so it is well suited to no-till, inter-row sowing into standing residue. PBA Jumbo has improved tolerance to soil boron and salinity over Aldinga and Nugget. It has a seed size and shape similar to Aldinga (20% larger than Nugget) and a grey seed coat. PBA Jumbo is well suited to the post-harvest grading out and removal of small broadleaf weed seeds (e.g. vetch). Milling quality is better than Nugget and it is well suited to premium large red split lentil markets (e.g. Sri Lanka). PBA Jumbo variety management package (VMP)
PBA Jumbo2 is a large-seeded red lentil that supersedes PBA Jumbo and is the highest yielding lentil variety available in Australia. PBA Jumbo2 long-term yields are 9–13 per cent higher than PBA Jumbo and it out-performs all other current varieties in medium-rainfall lentil growing regions. This mid-maturing, broadly adapted large red variety is resistant to ascochyta blight (AB) and botrytis grey mould (BGM) and with these attributes will assist in achieving consistent high grain quality for the market and is suitable for early sowing to maximise yield. PBA Jumbo2 variety management package (VMP)
Nipper has resistance to BGM but its resistance to AB appears to have broken down in high lentil intensity areas of South Australia. Vegetative and podding sprays for AB are now recommended for this variety in disease-prone areas. Nipper has a small seed size, similar to PBA Herald XT. Like PBA Herald XT and PBA Hurricane XT, Nipper flowers later than Nugget but often matures earlier than Nugget. PBA Hurricane XT has superseded Nipper. Nipper variety management package (VMP)
Nugget is a medium-seeded red lentil that became the standard red lentil variety in southern Australia for yield and marketing. Newer variety releases, PBA Bolt and PBA Ace, are generally considered more reliable for yield and quality, and so have superseded Nugget. Nugget variety management package (VMP)
Older red lentil varieties
Green lentil varieties
When choosing a variety, consider the disease risk, seasonal outlook and market forecast. The agronomic traits of the current red lentil varieties are provided below along with yield, diseases resistance and seed availability comparisons. The variety management package for each variety provides more detailed information.
Boomer is a large-seeded green lentil that is tall and vigorous but can lodge when growing conditions are favourable. Sowing early can increase lodging and result in smaller than expected seed at harvest. Boomer is moderately resistant to foliar infection by ascochyta blight (AB) but moderately susceptible to seed infection. It is moderately resistant to botrytis grey mould (BGM). Early harvest is important to prevent shattering and maintain good coloured seed. Boomer variety management package (VMP)
PBA Giant is a significant improvement on the large green lentil variety Boomer, having yields 5–10% on average greater than Boomer in Victoria with similar yields in South Australia. On-farm storage will provide strategic marketing options for growers of this variety. PBA Giant has improved shattering resistance compared to Boomer, it is broadly adapted and best suited to the medium rainfall lentil growing regions. It has good early vigour, similar to PBA Ace and Boomer. It is moderately resistant to ascochyta blight and MS to BGM, and has improved tolerance to soil boron, similar to PBA Jumbo, PBA Flash and PBA Bolt. It is well suited to the removal of small broadleaf weed seeds from the harvest sample. PBA Giant variety management package (VMP)
PBA Greenfield is a medium-sized green lentil and is now the highest yielding green lentil variety available in Australia (average yield is 11–14% higher than the red lentil variety, Nugget). This variety represents a new market opportunity for Australian growers. PBA Greenfield is a broadly adapted variety with early vigour, well suited to medium rainfall lentil growing regions, similar to PBA Ace and Boomer. It is moderately resistant to BGM and MR/MS to foliar and seed/pod AB with an improved tolerance to soil salinity, similar to PBA Flash and PBA Bolt. PBA Greenfield variety management package (VMP)
Lentil is best suited to locations that receive an annual rainfall of 350–500 mm. In drier or colder areas, lentil plants may not grow tall enough to be harvested efficiently. Lentil is particularly sensitive to waterlogging. Spring sowing may be an option on some deeper, heavier soils in higher rainfall areas.
Checklist for lentil paddock selection:
- Is the rainfall greater than 350 mm/yr (plus good sub-soil moisture?
- If the rainfall is >550 mm/yr, is delayed or spring sowing possible?
- Is the soil heavy and deep enough to hold sufficient water to finish the season?
- Is it a friable soil that does not set excessively hard on the surface?
- Is soil pH between 6 and 8 (CaCl2)?
- Is the soil free draining (i.e. no waterlogging)?
- Is the paddock free of surface stones and sticks, and relatively flat?
- Are plant-back periods and rainfall accounted for to avoid herbicide residue impacts?
- Is control of weeds possible?
- Is the broadleaf weed and herbicide resistant annual ryegrass burden low?
Consideration of likely broadleaf weeds is essential. Lentil plants are poor competitors with weeds, but a range of registered herbicides and crop production options are available to provide effective weed control prior to sowing and in-crop. Note that these herbicides can affect lentil yields, and there are differences in variety sensitivities to specific herbicides. Weeds such as vetches, tares, bifora, medics and self-sown peas and beans are often more difficult to effectively control in lentil than in other break crops.
Pay special attention to stopping seed set of broadleaf weeds in the years prior to a lentil crop, or choose paddocks with low broadleaf weed burdens.
Avoid planting lentil into paddocks with high levels of herbicide resistant ryegrass. In low weed density situations, weed (or ‘wick’) wiping can be used to prevent the weeds that are taller than the crop from setting seed. Croptopping to prevent weed seed set can also be effective, but be aware of its limitations and the need for correct timing. Croptopping lentil too early can cause grain quality problems through premature ripening. Some lentil varieties are later maturing and can be indeterminate in a late season, hence the weeds may need topping before the crop is ready. Lentil paddocks can also be variable in their ripening across soil types in the paddock, and in wheel tracks. Early maturing varieties like PBA Blitz or PBA Flash suit croptopping better than later maturing varieties.
Because lentil plants are short (15 to 80 cm) and must be harvested near ground level, choose flat paddocks free of surface stones or sticks that might damage harvesting machinery and contaminate the seed sample. Soil surface rolling is often essential to aid efficient harvesting however this will flatten standing cereal stubble that would otherwise be very beneficial to the lentil crop.
Lentil is suited to flat paddocks with well drained loam and clay loam soils of good fertility. They prefer the better, deeper wheat growing soils with higher water holding capacity. Avoid soils with extreme pH, preferring neutral to alkaline soils with a pH range of 5–8 (CaCl2). Lentil performs poorly on sandy, acidic soils.
Lentil can grow on heavy clays to loamy sand and cope with low fertility, but they are very susceptible to waterlogging, salinity and high boron levels, which cause major growth and yield variation within a paddock. Excessive boron or sodic subsoil within the crop root zone can cause plant death and severely limit lentil yields. Soil acidity delays and limits nodulation and hence, reduces yield.
Lentil is well suited to alkaline, self-mulching grey clays (e.g. the Wimmera) and also grows successfully on loamy sands (e.g. in the Mallee).
Lentil is extremely sensitive to some residual herbicides from Groups B and I. Observe maximum plant-back periods on the label and when planning crop rotations, take herbicide residues and plant-back requirements into consideration.
Plant-back on herbicide labels will not change with the new herbicide tolerant lentil varieties, PBA Herald XT and PBA Hurricane XT, but crop safety is greatly improved with these varieties where residual herbicide impacts would otherwise be expected.
See also ‘Herbicide residues and weed control’.
Stubble retention systems
Lentil fits well into stubble retention systems, serving their wider role in crop rotations and farming systems.
Stubble retention implies the stubble of previous crops is left standing, on the soil surface or incorporated (buried) into the soil. Lentil fits well in minimum tillage, direct drilling, no-tillage or zero-tillage farming systems provided the physical seeding process is not affected. Using GPS-guidance and auto-steer systems lentil can be sown inter-row, between standing stubble rows. This aids in stubble clearance during sowing, often reduces herbicide throw and damage, and the lentil crops grow taller and are more erect, achieving greater harvest efficiency.
Stubble that grazing animals have trampled, is lodged or brittle from summer rainfall can present difficulties at sowing, even when sowing inter-row. Lentil crops that follow a drought-affected cereal or a hay cut may not benefit from the limited amount of stubble retained, particularly if the sowing is aggressive, causing a high level of soil disturbance and incorporation of the remaining stubble.
Many pulse crops require a level soil surface for effective application of herbicides and harvestability. Short crops, stones, clods, sticks or stubble clumps all cause harvesting problems. However, rolling lentil after sowing for herbicide safety or harvest efficiency reasons, completely or partially flattens standing stubble, negating the beneficial effect of standing stubble on lentil. The flattened stubble may obstruct sowing and will provide limited support for the lentil plants as they grow. Press wheels on seeders can be an alternative to rolling if the press wheels are wide enough to firm the sowing row without knocking down the standing stubble. Disc planters with narrow sowing slots and minimal soil throw avoid the need for rolling after sowing lentil and so the cereal stubble is kept standing.
On sandy and light soils, stubble retention lessens the risk of wind erosion. Stubble loads are often low on these soils and do not usually present a barrier to minimum tillage seeding or direct drilling. Stubble retention and reduced tillage also provide protection from water erosion on hills and steep slopes, especially during summer rainfall or storms.
Where the risk of wind or water erosion is lower, stubble retention is not necessarily widely adopted. Stubble retention is often not possible in areas where slugs and snails are a major problem at establishment or snails are a concern at harvest, particularly in higher rainfall zones.
In southern Australia, late burning of high stubble loads just before sowing can assist with sowing and control of pests such as slugs and snails. Stubble organic matter and cover is lost with burning, however the soil moisture benefits of having maintained stubble cover over summer and early autumn remain. After a late stubble burn the soil surface is exposed, which creates a risk erosion and for weeds to establish before seeding and during crop establishment, until the canopy closes.
Adequate weed control measures must be taken during the previous year and again before sowing, particularly to address problem weeds. For some soil-active broadleaf herbicides to be fully effective, or to avoid crop damage, application must only occur when there is sufficient soil moisture and the soil surface is level. Herbicides applied before seeding or split between pre and post-sowing can be safer than post-sowing if the soil will be left ridged (e.g. after using knife points).
Retaining stubble or plant residue from previous crops protects the soil from erosion, reduces soil moisture loss and assists in crop growth and height. If rolling is required on sloping ground or hardsetting soils, this may have to be done post-emergent to reduce the risk of water erosion or surface crusting. Rolling will flatten cereal stubble from previous crops
Remove excessively large clumps of stubble, otherwise they will cause seed placement and harvesting difficulties. Surface retention of cereal stubble does not affect lentil germination or growth, and can improve establishment on hardsetting, surface crusting soils. It may affect establishment though if seeding equipment cannot handle the stubble load or place seed accurately.
Where soils are below a pH 5 (CaCl2), lime applications should be considered before growing lentil.
SU injury to lentil due to soil persistence.
Iron deficiency in lentils.
Poor nodulation can cause stunting, yellowing and poor growth.
The roller does not place weight on the lentil plants as would happen on flatter soil.
Lentil dying under waterlogged conditions compared to better drained areas
Lentils can emerge through thick cereal stubble.
Wide row sowing of lentils is becoming more common.
Boron toxicity in lentil leaves showing typical leaf tip symptoms.
Imazethapyr (e.g. Spinnaker®) injury in conventional lentil plants (left) compared to an ‘imi’ tolerant (XT) lentil variety (right).
SU injury to lentil due to soil persistence.
Iron deficiency in lentils.
Poor nodulation can cause stunting, yellowing and poor growth.
The roller does not place weight on the lentil plants as would happen on flatter soil.
Lentil dying under waterlogged conditions compared to better drained areas
Lentils can emerge through thick cereal stubble.
Wide row sowing of lentils is becoming more common.
Boron toxicity in lentil leaves showing typical leaf tip symptoms.
Imazethapyr (e.g. Spinnaker®) injury in conventional lentil plants (left) compared to an ‘imi’ tolerant (XT) lentil variety (right).
Always use high quality seed. Lentil seed, like other pulse seeds, is susceptible to weathering impacts and mechanical damage at harvest. Loose seed coats and split, fractured or broken seeds reduce the germination percentage and can affect seedling vigour.
Test any retained seed for germination, vigour and disease, and avoid using seed with greater than 2% ascochyta infection. Check the seed analysis certificate for germination percentage and purity before purchase. Legislation requires that only the minimum germination test must be supplied on the label with certified seed. Be sure to ask for the seed analysis certificate and any disease testing for the seed lot being purchased.
Ascochyta blight and botrytis grey mould are seed-borne and can reduce germination and yield. Do not keep seed from severely diseased crops. See also 'Lentil: Integrated disease management'
A number of seed-borne viruses, including cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV), can affect lentil. Where possible, use seed that has been tested and certified free of viruses. See also 'Managing viruses in pulses'.
Aim for established plant densities of approximately 100–120 plants/m2.
Calculate the sowing rate (kg/ha) required for individual varieties according to their germination percentage and seed weight. The number of seeds that actually emerge is often less than the viable seed number sown due to non-vigorous seedlings, disease, herbicide damage or poor soil structure. Use previous or local experience to account for poorer emergence and, if necessary, increase the sowing rate.
Sow at a depth of 5–10 cm. Sowing at this depth helps to avoid herbicide damage from pre-emergent herbicides. Lentil emerges faster than most other pulses, despite their seed size, but plant growth is slow during winter. If germination coincides with soil temperatures below 5°C, complete emergence may take 30 days.
Lentil crops in southern Australia are increasingly being sown at wider than ‘standard’ (18–25 cm) row spacing, when sown into standing stubble as part of a whole farming system. Wider row and ‘skip’ row lentil crops (30–50 cm) must be part of an overall system.
Standing stubble is essential when sowing on wider rows to avoid moisture loss and prevent weed infestation inter-row. Standing stubble ensures taller, more erect plants with pods higher above the ground, and reduces lodging before harvest. Lift any non-sowing tines so inter-row soil disturbance is minimised, reducing the risk of weeds germinating where there is no crop competition. Reasons for choosing wider rows with lentil and other pulses vary with location, system and operator. Often lentil is sown in narrower rows like some other pulses (e.g. chickpea, faba bean or lupin). Key drivers for using wider row, stubble systems are the combination of:
- better yields and yield consistency
- availability of equipment with better stubble clearance and other sowing practicalities
- improved water use efficiency (drought tolerance)
- delay of canopy closure to minimise disease risk and for easier management
- option to sow early and minimise foliar disease risks with a bigger crop canopy
- better weed control through minimised soil disturbance
- option of shielded sprayers for weed control inter-row
- improved harvesting speeds and efficiency.
Time of sowing is critical for lentil disease control, best yields and to avoid frost or heat damage. Match variety choice with the sowing system because varieties now differ in their growth habit and height, lodging, time to canopy closure, flowering time and disease resistance. Attitude to disease control, row spacing, moisture availability, stubble presence all affect the optimum sowing dates.
Dry sowing can be successful in lentil, provided weeds like medic are not a problem. Rather than waiting for the correct moisture status, many growers sow lentil on a calendar date to ensure that sowing is completed early or to avoid interfering with other operations. Paddock selection is particularly important for dry sowing lentil to be successful.
Choose a seed inoculation method suited to dry soil conditions such as granular inoculants (see more below).
Seed inoculation and treatment
Lentil requires the same rhizobium as field peas (Group E). Inoculation of lentil seed may not be required on some alkaline soils if the paddock has recently grown inoculated and well-nodulated field pea, faba bean or lentil crops. If uncertain about soil types or rotation history and practice, it is best to inoculate and be sure.
Fungal seed dressing can improve seed emergence, especially in wetter conditions. If using inoculum and seed dressing, apply the seed dressing first and then inoculate immediately before seeding. Do not mix inoculants and seed dressing together unless the inoculant label specifies compatibility.
The traditional ‘peat slurry’ method of applying inoculum remains widely used however other methods, such as liquid injection and placing inoculum granules into the seeding row, are also becoming more common practice. Granular forms of inoculum may assist in rhizobial survival, particularly in adverse conditions such as in acid (lower pH) soils or when the crop is sown dry. Given the importance of successful nodulation in lentil on acid soils, growers might consider inoculating the seed in a peat slurry and also using a granular inoculum at seeding. Note that freeze-dried inoculums applied to seed may not provide the same protection to the rhizobia as peat-based inoculums.
See also ‘Pulse inoculation techniques’.
Rolling of the soil surface may be required to protect the crop from residual herbicide damage or to improve harvest efficiency. Rolling is possible from pre-emergent to the 4–5 leaf stage of growth. It is best done with a rubber-tyre roller when soil is moist. Its purpose is to flatten any ridges and clods caused by sowing and to press any rocks or sticks into the soil. Soil that is left ridged from narrow points and press wheels at sowing may not press down to being completely level as the roller will tend to ride on the ridges and put less pressure on the plant rows.
Ideally the resulting flat surface will allow the harvester to operate at near-ground level, picking up the short crop and harvesting pods close to the ground. Having a flat surface reduces harvest losses, harvester wear and contamination in the seed sample.
Rolling may not necessarily flatten all of the standing stubble present. However, after summer or harvest rains, cereal stubble and in particularly barley stubble, tends to be more brittle and does not stand as well after rolling. Some of the lentil crop growth and erectness benefits of standing stubble may therefore be lost. Use of some disc drills in standing stubble may eliminate the need to roll lentil crops.
If the soil is prone to hardsetting or crusting, is sandy or on sloping country prone to erosion, rolling may have to be delayed until the crop has emerged. The safest time to roll lentil post-emergent is when the plants are at the 3–5 leaf stage. Avoid rolling lentil plants that are just starting to emerge because the emerging shoots can be broken off. Roll post-emergent lentil crops under warmer conditions when the plants are limp, and not brittle from cold or frosty conditions. Crop damage is minimised if rolling is done in the afternoon or on the morning of a warmer day. Avoid rolling two weeks before or after applying a post-emergent herbicide. Rolling a crop affected by leaf disease may increase the spread of disease within the crop.
A well-nodulated lentil crop should be self-sufficient for nitrogen (See also ‘Pulse inoculation techniques’), however rates of 5–10 kg/ha of ‘starter’ nitrogen may be useful on slightly acid or infertile soils.
Phosphorus removal is about 4.2 kg per tonne of grain. An application of 50 kg of single superphosphate per ha for each tonne of target yield is typically required to maintain soil P levels. Using superphosphate also ensures adequate sulfur for the crop.
Lentil crops may respond to zinc, manganese, iron or molybdenum in soils that are deficient in these trace elements. Use liquid injection or solid fertiliser during seeding to correct any likely deficiencies.
Irrigation of lentil is possible, but good drainage is essential because lentil plants do not tolerate waterlogging, particularly during early flowering. Even short periods of waterlogging can result in severe losses. Management requirements for irrigated lentil are the same as for dryland crops, with a greater emphasis on disease control as irrigated crops are more prone to the spread of foliar diseases due to the dense canopy and potentially prolonged leaf wetness after irrigation.
Salinity levels in irrigation water or the soil to be watered must be low. Lentil is one of the more sensitive field crops to salinity—almost as sensitive as green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), which require irrigation water < 0.7 dS/m for nil yield reduction. A 10 per cent yield reduction is expected if the irrigation water measures 1.0 dS/m.
Some experienced lentil growers in the eastern Mallee regions of Victoria successfully use overhead irrigation. Flood irrigation of lentil crops is not widely practiced in Australia because the risk of yield loss to waterlogging is considered to be high. Nevertheless, irrigation may be economical if the irrigation system allows adequate drainage, there is good quality water available and the rotation with other winter and summer crops is managed well to reduce the risk of disease pressure.
Good weed control is essential because lentils grow slowly during winter and compete poorly against weeds. Weedy lentil crops lose yield, are difficult to harvest and contribute only minimal rotational benefits to subsequent crops.
Avoid sowing lentil in paddocks with a history of severe broadleaf weed problems. Vetches, tares, medics, clovers, wild radish, bedstraw, bifora and self-sown pulses are particularly hard to control in lentil crops. While use of the herbicide tolerant varieties PBA Hurricane XT and PBA Herald XT might increase the herbicide options for weed control over conventional varieties, this does not over-ride the necessity for careful paddock selection and adequate weed control in previous years. Preventing seed set of broadleaf weeds in the year prior to growing lentil is very important.
It is essential to plan your weed control strategy before sowing. Delaying sowing is an option in most areas except the lower rainfall areas (below 350 mm). This strategy can enable several weed kills before sowing. Delayed sowing is practical for shorter season varieties like PBA Blitz and PBA Flash, but not for varieties that require a longer growing season.
Herbicides applied pre-sowing or post-sowing pre-emergent (PSPE), or a combination of both, can control many broadleaf weeds. Most grass weeds can be controlled either pre-emergent or post-emergent, with the exception of those with herbicide resistance.
Diflufenican products and flumetsulam are registered for post-emergent broadleaf weed control in lentil. Some caution is required as some varieties are sensitive to post-emergent herbicides. PBA Hurricane XT and Herald XT have increased herbicide tolerance to applied flumetsulam and residuals of some ‘SU’ and ‘imi’ products. Imazethapyr can be used only on PBA Hurricane XT and Herald XT under APVMA permit PER14369.
Refer to herbicide labels or seek professional advice for optimal weed control before and during the lentil season.
Avoiding herbicide damage
Pre-seeding herbicide applications are often considered safer and more reliable than post-sowing applications, particularly under dry conditions. To ensure weed control in the seeding furrow and to minimise crop damage, a combination of pre and post-sowing applications may be required.
Under adverse seasonal or soil conditions, most post-sowing, pre-emergent herbicides can damage lentil. Even post-emergent applications can cause crop damage in some circumstances. In most cases damage can be attributed to the product solubility and agronomic or environmental factors.
To reduce the risk of herbicide damage when using metribuzin or other soluble products post-sowing pre-emergent (PSPE) on lentil:
- sow at a depth of 5 cm or deeper
- apply the herbicides to a level soil surface (e.g. after prickle chaining or rolling)
- appreciate that rolling after press wheels may not do enough to level out the furrow
- avoid applying these herbicides post-sowing to dry soils
- choose the right herbicide rate for the soil type (lighter soils require lower rates than heavier soils – seek local professional advice)
- check variety susceptibilities
- consider splitting the applications between pre-sowing and PSPE.
To reduce the risk of herbicide damage when using broadleaf control herbicides post-emergent on lentil:
- as for PSPE for sowing depth (5 cm or deeper) and soil conditions
- apply post-emergent herbicides under warmer (>5 degree C) conditions during a period where some rain has fallen and there are no frosts.
See also 'Residual herbicide and weed control'.
Lentil can be successfully croptopped with paraquat to control seed set of annual ryegrass, however care with timing is critical. Croptop lentil as late as practical to minimise yield reduction but within the window of greatest effectiveness for preventing weed seed set.
Croptopping lentil too early can affect grain quality with green kernels and seed coat discolouration arising from premature desiccation. However, in prolonged growing seasons, the lentil crop may not be mature enough when the grasses are ready to be topped. Lentil variety choice based on maturity time can therefore be important. Varieties like PBA Bolt, PBA Blitz and PBA Flash are safer to croptop than later maturing varieties.
Ideally, the lentil plants should have finished flowering, have well-formed seeds in the pods and started to turn yellow/brown before croptopping commences. Beware of the potential for coloured foam marker dyes to stain lentil seed inside the pods.
Take note of the harvest withholding periods of the products used so that harvest does not need to be delayed because of product withholding periods. For paraquat the withholding period is 7 days on most labels. Crops that have been croptopped are more prone to seed staining after rain than crops that have been desiccated.
Weed wiping is being successfully used in lentil to prevent weed seed set of herbicide resistant ryegrass and other weeds. For weeds wiping to be successful, the in-crop weeds must be taller than the lentil plants, and any standing stubble) at the time of wiping.
A weed wiper can be useful to prevent seed set of tall weeds in lentils.
Lentils do not compete well with weeds but they do offer a variety of weed control options in the rotation.
Preventing seed set on all ryegrass escapes is the aim when croptopping in lentils.
The main diseases of lentils in Australia are ascochyta blight, botrytis grey mould and viruses. Integrated disease management in lentil requires the use of the following strategies:
- Paddock selection. Aim for a break of at least three years between lentil crops and at least 250 m from the previous year’s lentil paddock. Avoid sowing lentil in paddocks adjacent to faba bean, vetch, chickpea or lathyrus stubble as these crops can hosts diseases that affect lentils.
- Variety selection. Select varieties that are least susceptible to the main disease risk for the region. Sowing more than one variety spreads the overall risk.
- Seed source. Use seed from a paddock where there was no weed seed contamination and where no viruses and fungal diseases were previously detected. A fungal threshold of less than 1% is acceptable. For viruses, a threshold of <0.1% seed infection is necessary in high risk areas, and <0.5% seed infection for low risk areas.
- Seed treatment. Treat seed for sowing with a fungicidal seed dressing.
- Canopy management. Manipulate variety choice, row spacing, seeding rate and time of sowing to manage crop height, delay time of canopy closure and prevent lodging to assist in disease management. Wider row spacing (23–42 cm) delays canopy closure and may reduce disease, provided lodging does not occur. Standing cereal stubbles help to keep lentil plants erect but could enhance botrytis grey mould (BGM) development if stubble remains wet for long periods (e.g. 4–5 days). High humidity and excessive rainfall during the vegetative growth phases also could enhance the development of BGM and reduce seed quality.
- Sowing rate and depth. Target plant density should be 120–150 plants/m2. Aim for higher density populations for lower rainfall areas and short season environments. An ideal germination percentage is 80%, if less, sowing rates may need to be increased to compensate.
Seeding rate (kg/ha) = Plant density (plants/m2) x 100 seed weight (g) x 10 ÷ Germination percentage
Sowing depth should be 4–6 cm. This depth protects seed from herbicide damage and offers an optimum environment for rhizobium survival. Make sure there is good soil moisture before sowing and that seed has been inoculated.
- Sowing date. Sow within the optimal planting window for the district.
- Hygiene. Take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of disease between paddocks and farms.
- Foliar fungicide program. Foliar fungicide applications often commence before canopy closure. Use the spray program for foliar fungicides provided below to assist in making fungicide application decisions. Success depends on crop monitoring, correct disease identification, timeliness of application and use of the correct product.
- Harvest management. Early harvest minimises disease infection on seed.
See also 'Meeting lentil market requirements'.
A BGM susceptible variety (front centre) showing botrytis grey mould compared with the same variety (immediately behind) treated with fungicide and other varieties (left and right) that have resistance to BGM.
Ascochyta lesions and leaf necrosis on lentil leaves.
Ascochyta staining on lentil seeds.
An integrated disease management plan should include a well-planned fungicide program.
Virus patches in lentil. Note initial infection area (dead plants) and newer infections nearby.
Beet western yellows virus (BWYV) in lentil.
Lentils with CMV and AMV. Note the bare ground surrounding the plants.
Ascochyta blight is a potentially serious but manageable disease of lentil in Australia. Most current varieties are unlikely to have significant yield losses due to ascochyta blight. However, ascochyta blight does infect lentil pods and seed, causing a discolouration of grain that will significantly reduce the marketability and value of affected grain.
Symptoms of foliar infection
The disease (caused by Ascochyta lentis) appears on leaves and pods as round, whitish lesions with brown margins. Black fruiting bodies in the lesions distinguish the disease from spots caused by herbicide damage. Severe infections cause leaf yellowing. Tips of stems wilt, turn brown and die. Pod infection spreads to the seeds, which turn purple-brown and shrivel in whole or in part.
Ascochyta blight can be both seed and stubble borne. Wind borne spores from infected lentil stubbles can blow into adjacent paddocks and infect new lentil crops. Infection can occur at any stage of plant growth, but is more significant during late flowering and pod fill. Wet weather favours disease development and rain splash spreads spores onto new crop growth within the crop, including pods.
Ascochyta blight management begins with the use of disease-free seed. Test retained seed if there is any doubt about the disease status of the seed. Sow into paddocks that are free of infected lentil stubble and avoid close rotations of lentil in the same paddock. Sow a variety that is resistant (R) to AB seed infection such as PBA Jumbo2, PBA Herald XT and PBA Ace. Moderately resistant (MR) varieties are PBA Hurricane XT, PBA Blitz, PBA Bolt and PBA Giant. For other varieties, strategic fungicide sprays may be required during flowering and pod fill.
Fungicidal seed dressings help control seedling infection. Destruction of lentil stubble by burning, cultivation or grazing helps to minimise disease carry-over between seasons. Delay sowing until early June because early sowing increases the length of time the crop is exposed to disease. Ascochyta blights of field pea, chickpea and faba bean are specific to those crops and will not cause ascochyta blight on lentil.
See also 'Lentil: Integrated disease management'
Botrytis grey mould (Botrytis spp)
Botrytis grey mould (BGM) infects lentil seed and stubble but is generally only a problem in wet years, when it can cause crop devastation. A dense crop, lodging and rain in late spring provide ideal conditions for the disease to develop in the crop canopy. Wider row spacing, later sowing and reduced seeding rates will reduce crop canopy density and the likelihood of infection.
Symptoms of stem and pod rot
Botrytis grey mould (Botrytis fabae and B. cinerea) can infect any above-ground plant parts. Lesions on leaves and pods are initially dark green but turn greyish-brown as they mature. Grey mould also develops on flowers. If the canopy is wet for long periods the pathogen grows on the stems, which quickly become covered with a fuzzy layer of grey mould. This all occurs within the crop canopy, often unseen from above the canopy. When the weather turns dry, clouds of spores are released into the air when plants are disturbed. Severely infected leaves, flowers and pods wilt and fall to the ground. If wet conditions continue the stems become girdled, resulting in spreading patches of brown and dying plants within the crop.
Symptoms of seedling blight
Seed from severely infected crops is often discoloured and shrivelled. If infected seed is used for sowing, plant establishment is usually poor, due to low germination and seedling blight. Blighted seedlings emerge but are yellow and stunted, and usually die after one or two weeks. If germination takes place under wet conditions, mycelium from infected seedlings can grow through the soil to neighbouring plants, creating patches of blighted and dying plants in the field. When seedlings infected with BGM are pulled up, grey mycelium can often be found on the stems just under the soil.
The fungus that causes botrytis grey mould is always present to some extent on pulse crop residues, especially from chickpea, faba bean and vetch. Airborne spores released from old infected crop residues early in the season can infect new crops. Grey mould can infect lentil at any time during the growing season, but epidemics generally develop late, after the plant canopy has closed. Periods of high humidity in spring favour rapid development of the disease. The fungus may establish a foothold on senesced plant parts, or on tissues damaged by hail, wind or machinery. It can also attack healthy plants and has a broad host range that includes faba bean, vetch, chickpea, field pea and lucerne. Flowers and pods are particularly sensitive to botrytis grey mould infection, which reduces pod set and seed quality. After harvest, the fungus survives as mycelium on plant residues and as sclerotia in the soil to enable its long-term survival.
Prevention of BGM seedling blight begins with sowing disease-free seed. Seed treatment with thiram plus thiabendazole, or thiram alone will control most, but not all, botrytis infections.
Timing and management of crop canopy closure is important in botrytis grey mould control. Follow recommended sowing times and sowing rates for the district. Crops with excessive vegetative growth and lodging are more prone to infection and losses due to botrytis infection. Airflow through the crop canopy reduces the in-crop humidity and this reduces the severity of infection.
Apply foliar fungicides just prior to canopy closure to prevent botrytis grey mould establishing in a crop. Fungicides should be considered in crops or varieties that are more susceptible to botrytis grey mould infection.
Taller, erect varieties or slower growing varieties are at less risk of infection, irrespective of their disease rating. Lush growth or lodging that provides a humid microclimate under the crop canopy enhances the inherent variety susceptibility. PBA Jumbo2, PBA Herald XT and the supersede variety Nipper are rated resistant (R) to botrytis grey mould. Several others are rated moderately susceptible to moderately resistant (MS/MR). Other lentil varieties are moderately susceptible (MS) to BGM, but PBA Bolt and Northfield are particularly susceptible (S).
Do not grow lentil in, or adjacent to, paddocks where grey mould has recently infected chickpea or lentil, or where chocolate spot has infected faba bean.
See also 'Lentil: Integrated disease management'
Lentil crops surveyed in South Australia and Victoria commonly have Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV) present, a disease that can occasionally express as a major problem. Viruses do pose a threat to lentils if ignored. In unique cases where lentil crops have experienced heavy losses from viral infection, it has been in association with prolonged, high levels of aphids that arrived early. Combinations of CMV, Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (AMV) and Beet Western Yellows Virus (BWYV) are often present when lentil crops are sampled.
The most important factors that predispose pulse crops to severe virus infection are:
- close proximity to a substantial virus reservoir (e.g. lucerne, summer weeds, infected lentil seed)
- high summer-autumn rainfall and the subsequent uncontrolled multiplication of aphids on host plants.
Early aphid flights to newly emerged crops can cause economic loss as early infection has a larger impact on yield and infected plants will act as a inoculum source for further virus spread within the crop.
Lentil problem solver
- 'Lentil: Integrated disease management'
- ‘Virus management in pulses’
- Crop protection products for current permits and registrations for pulses
- Refer to individual product labels and local professional advice.
Redlegged earth mite (RLEM) (Halotydeus destructor) and blue oat mite (BOM) (Penthaleus major) can cause significant damage to young lentil crops. Mite-damaged leaves have a rasped silvery appearance, turn brown and shrivel. Damage is most severe when cold, wet or dry conditions slow seedling growth.
Strategic prevention may involve foliar spraying in the previous spring. Clean cultivation in autumn and attention to weeds on fence lines is also essential. If possible, keep a distance from paddocks of the species that host mites, such as other pulses, pasture legumes (including sub clover and lucerne) and oilseeds, and control weeds such as thistles and capeweed along paddock borders and non-crop areas.
Bare earth insecticides that are registered in lentil for post-sowing use will protect germinating seedlings, when the crop is most vulnerable. Seed treatments work best when low numbers of mites are active during germination.
Monitor young crops weekly, inspecting lentil plants at 10 different sites within the crop. Weather conditions affect mite activity. If the weather is fine, estimate the numbers per leaf; if it is cold and cloudy, estimate the numbers per 100 square cm (10 cm x 10 cm) around the base of the plants. Mite damage is typically greater around the edge of paddocks where mites are invading from outside the paddock. An average of 50 mites per area inspected (leaf or around the plant base) indicates that control may be warranted.
The lucerne flea (Sminthurus viridis) is a small, wingless, light green, flea-like insect that jumps when disturbed. Symptoms of damage are a ‘window pane’ hole in leaves or ragged leaf edges. The host species range for flea is similar to that for RLEM. Control of lucerne flea is also similar to that for RLEM.
Monitor crops regularly, at least weekly, for signs of damage. If lucerne flea is suspected, look for the presence or absence of damage on 10 plants, repeated at five sites. An average of 10 or more holes per leaf may indicate that control is warranted.
Flowering and podding pests
Native budworm (Helicoverpa punctigera) moths migrate from inland Australia into lentil production areas in spring. Female moths lay eggs on leaves, stems, flowers or pods. Large larvae (more than 1 cm long) cause significant damage as they burrow into pods and feed on the developing grain.
Budworm larvae can vary widely in colour, but all have a dark line down the centre of their back and a broad, pale stripe along each side of the body. Their skin appears bumpy. Stiff, short black hairs are usually evident along the body.
Weekly monitoring to detect larvae should begin at flowering. Increase to twice-weekly from early podding or from when moth activity has peaked. Sweep with a 38 cm diameter net 10 times in at least five different areas of the crop. Spray when five or more larvae are collected in any of the 10 sweeps. Delay spraying until the majority of larvae are about 1 cm long. Spraying too early increases the risk of a second population developing before harvest. Do not delay too long though because larger caterpillars require higher rates of insecticide and are the ones that bore into pods, causing the greatest economic losses.
Lodged lentil crops cannot be swept effectively. In lodged crops, shake half a metre of row vigorously over a white tray or fertiliser bag. Repeat 5–10 times. Control is warranted if an average of 1 larvae/m of row is detected.
See also ‘Managing native budworm’.
Etiella (or lucerne seed web moth)
Etiella (Etiella behrii) larvae bore into pods and mature while feeding on the developing seeds. When fully fed they exit to pupate in the soil. Controlling larvae is difficult as they remain inside the pods where they are protected from insecticidal sprays.
Management involves controlling the moths before they lay eggs. The moth has a slender body and a distinct beak. The wings are grey with a white streak along the front and a yellow band near the base. The wingspan is approximately 2 cm.
See also Etiella management in lentils (SARDI).
Snails and slugs
White snails (Cernuella virgata & Theba pisana) and pointed (or conical) snails (Cochlicella acuta & Cochlicella barbara) be a problem in lentil crops, damaging young crops and contaminating grain at harvest. Slugs can also cause significant damage to emerging crops.
Snails may feed on young crops, creating substantial bare areas that then need re-sowing. In late spring, snails can climb lentil plants and standing cereal stubble, contaminating the grain at harvest. The contaminated grain may be downgraded or rejected and live snails in grain pose a threat to exports. Crushed snails clog up machinery, causing delays during harvest.
Snails are dormant in summer, becoming active following rain in autumn. Young snails hatch about two weeks after rain initiates snail activity and egg laying. Multiple hatchings occur from May to October. They feed and grow through the winter and spring and then climb fence posts or plants in late spring, where they go into summer dormancy. Snails live for 1–2 years. They can move only short distances unless they are carried in hay, grain, machinery or vehicles.
Snail control starts in the summer before sowing, not at crop harvest. The first step in controlling snails is stubble management such as rolling, harrowing or dragging a cable on hot days or burning. Stubble management on hot days knocks snails to the ground where they dehydrate and die in the heat and rollers may also crush some snails. Air temperature needs to be over 35°C to kill injured snails and partial burning has a limited effect on snail numbers. These practices can impact on stubble retention systems and erosion vulnerability.
Conical snails are generally more difficult to control than white snails because conical snails shelter in cracks in the ground or under stones rather than on stubble. Dragging harrows or a cable before burning exposes more snails to the heat and improves the level of control.
The second step in the control program is to lay baits in autumn before the breaking rains initiate egg laying. Baiting snails in autumn will reduce egg laying (and the subsequent snail population) and reduce damage to young crops. Fence line baiting can be vital to prevent re-infestation of a paddock. To avoid contamination of grain do not spread baits within two months of harvest.
Windrowing of the mature crop can reduce the number of snails harvested as the snails are knocked from the crops during windrowing. When they re-climb plants, many are on the stalks between the windrows rather than in the windrow so they are not picked up by the harvester.
If snail contamination is so high that grain will be downgraded or rejected, seed cleaning equipment can be used to remove the contamination.
- Snail management fact sheet (GRDC)
- Bash ‘em, burn ‘em, bait ‘em: Integrated snail management in crops and pastures (SARDI).
Locusts and other pests of lentil
Australian plague locust (Chortoicetes terminifera) can cause significant damage to young lentil crops in some years. With suitable conditions, autumn swarms may migrate 200–500 km from south-west Queensland, north-west NSW and north-east SA into pastoral and agricultural areas where they lay eggs. From there a spring outbreak can occur within reach of lentil crops. See also 'Managing locusts in pulse crops'.
Other occasional pests of lentils include cutworms, balaustium mite, and clover (or bryobia) mite.
Cowpea and blue-green aphids can colonise lentil crops and spread viruses. See also 'Managing viruses in pulses'.
Refer to pesticide labels or the latest insect spraying charts for field crops and pastures available from various sources.
Native budworm larvae vary considerably in colour.
Native budworm damage to lentil seed.
Etiella moths have a distinctive 'beak'.
Once etiella larvae have entered the pod they damage most seeds and are protected from insecticidal sprays.
Redlegged earth mites (RLEM) cause the edges of leaves to turn brown and shrivel.
The red mark on the back distinguished the blue oat mite (pictured) from RLEM.
Snails can climb cereal stubble and be caught up in the harvest operation, potentially downgrading the grain.
Desiccation, harvest and storage
Chemical desiccation of lentil is sometimes necessary to ensure even maturity for harvest or to ‘brown off’ late weed infestations to make harvesting easier. To minimise losses in yield and quality when desiccating, it is best to apply desiccants when over 90% of pods are mature. Choose glyphosate and diquat products that are registered for desiccation of lentil and abide by all label requirements and harvest withholding periods. Glyphosate is not registered for seed crops and should not be used in pulses intended for seed production or sprouting.
Windrowing of lentil crops for uniform ripening and earlier harvest was once considered impractical because lentil windrows often lack bulk, are difficult to pick up from the bare ground and tend to be blown around in strong winds when left to dry down. However, some growers have had success in placing wide swathes doubled into a bulkier windrow and using a ‘cotton wheel roller’ to compact the windrow. Risk is reduced and harvesting efficiency improved because of the larger, compact windrow and wide swathe covered in the harvesting pass.
Windrowing has also been successful when it is done directly in front of the harvester. This can aid the harvesting of short crops and reduce snail contamination in the sample, but does not assist uniform and early crop ripening.
Harvest lentil as soon as they are ready. This helps avoid grain losses due to pod drop or shattering and reduces the risk of lodging, harvesting inefficiencies and deterioration of grain quality. Lodging and the relatively low crop height, varying from 15 to 50 cm, depending on variety, time of sowing, soil type, paddock levelness, seasonal conditions and faming system used can present some challenges at harvest. Lentil plants sown inter-row into standing cereal stubble are relatively easier to harvest because of their greater crop and pod height, reduced tendency to lodge and the stubble assists the flow of crop. Machinery modifications and early harvesting have improved the efficiency of lentil harvest.
All except very short crops will show some lodging at maturity, but some varieties or production systems like inter-row sowing into standing stubble produce more erect stands at harvest than others. Pods may develop at all levels of the crop and ripening can be uneven if the season is extended. Croptopping (for weed control) or desiccation can ensure a quicker and more uniform ripening of the crop. Plants growing in wheel tracks may ripen later and usually need to be desiccated for harvest. Timing of desiccation or croptopping is critical for grain quality because premature desiccation of wheel tracks or later maturing areas in a paddock can lead to grain quality issues in the harvested sample (e.g. green kernel or stained seed coats).
Monitor crops regularly as harvest time approaches. Harvest lentil when the lower pods have turned pale brown in colour and the seeds rattle in those pods. The seed that develops from the first flowers (those lowest on the plant) will mature before seed from the later flowers. Sample seed from at least 20 plants from a minimum of six sites across the paddock and test for moisture content. Seed moisture content of 15% is satisfactory for harvest but grain needs to be at 12–13% for safe storage. Harvest seed crops first, as the higher moisture content makes the seed less prone to harvest damage and should have a better germination percentage if stored and handled correctly.
Lentil crops generally ripen unevenly and many current varieties are short and tend to lodge. Crops that remain upright at maturity are more prone to pod drop during hot windy conditions, so early harvest is essential to capture the yield produced unless the standing stubble can provide sufficient protection from the wind.
Stems and some foliage may still be green when the grain is ready to harvest. Crop desiccation may assist uniform, quick ripening or dry any green plants and late infestations of weeds. Apply the desiccant when 50% of the crop has turned pale brown then harvest before the pods become brittle.
Harvesting as early as possible is extremely important, and attention to timeliness and efficient harvesting is profitable. Grain losses of more than 800 kg/ha have occurred in commercial paddocks where harvesting has been poorly timed. Late rains or severe winds that flatten crops also play a part in yield and quality losses. Appropriate variety selection, paddock choice, crop management and using a harvester front that can be set low enough to pick up maximum pod numbers all help maximise harvest efficiency.
In the space of just 2–5 days a crop can go from one that is easy to harvest to one that is more difficult to harvest because of lodging. Delays can also reduce the harvest direction options as it may only be possible to harvest the crop in one direction due to lodging. This reinforces the importance of harvesting lentil crops as soon as they are ready.
Rotary harvesters are gentler on the crop and will generally cause less grain damage than conventional harvesters. Conventional machinery can be used for harvesting, but it is necessary to cut at ground level to get the crop to feed into the comb. Floating or flexible cutter bars are a distinct advantage, and blowers or a vortex reel enables lentil to be harvested lower to the ground and ensure good crop feed. Direct head at the minimum drum speed.
Thinner, shorter or lodged crops are more challenging and harvest direction may even have to be one-way only. An extended cutter bar table and air assistance will also be of value in reducing harvest losses. Harvesting with an open-front machine (with crop lifters) is possible in taller crops.
Lentils are easily threshed, so concave clearances should be opened and the drum speed reduced. Try a concave setting fully open at the front and half-closed at the back. Lentil seed is heavy compared with stem and leaf trash, so it is safe to use draft to remove trash.
Harvesting for quality grain
Grain quality is the highest priority when grown lentil as the grain is sold into the food market for human consumption. Most grain is sold off visual specifications. Buyers of red or green lentil do not want chipped, cracked, stained, de-hulled or insect-damaged grain. The larger seed of the green lentil can make them more prone to mechanical damage. Early harvest is important for quality, as well as for efficient harvesting and to avoid crop losses. To minimise seed damage and losses, harvest in cool, early morning conditions and using a combination of low drum speed and a wide concave clearance.
Lentil grain can be delivered at up to 14% moisture content where aerated storage is available, making an early harvest practical. Harvesting early, when some seeds and pods are still green is preferable to delaying until all seeds are dry. This avoids pod drop and shattering of the early pods and excessive lodging, but may necessitate the aeration of the harvested grain. The risk of ascochyta spoilage of seed increases with delayed harvest, especially during a wet summer. The seed coat colour of lentil will bleach if left in hot sunny conditions for long periods of time. Timing can often coincide with barley harvesting so priorities must be set.
It is often better to harvest lentil crops up and back or in the one direction only, rather than around the paddock. There can be a ‘frustration factor’ with growers cutting corners when harvesting lentil, resulting in grain quality problems at delivery. The high value of lentil well justifies spending a little more time and effort before and during harvest.
See also 'Meeting lentil market requirements'.
Harvesting for retained seed
Select an area as free as possible from diseases, pests and weed seed. Ensure that headers, bins, augers and other equipment are not contaminated with insects, cereal grain, weed seed or other lentil varieties as these can be almost impossible to remove during cleaning. Glyphosate is not registered for seed crops and should not be used in pulses intended for seed production or sprouting.
Grain storage and handling
Belt shifters are the recommended method of handling lentils as they can be damaged by auger flights. If an auger is used it should be run full and at a slower speed than for cereals. Augers with a gap between the flight and the barrel are less likely to jam.
The seedcoat of most lentils will darken over time; however the extent of this darkening will vary depending on the original seed coat colour and storage conditions. We could expect lentils to darken faster when stored in warm, moist conditions compared to cool, dry conditions. Under typical farm storage conditions, darkening of lentil seed can be expected to be slow enough that marketing can occur late into the next season. Lentils can also darken very quickly if exposed to sunlight, particularly if they have a light coloured seed coat like green lentils (eg Boomer) or Aldinga red lentils.
Lentils are best not stored in bunkers or in ‘sausage bags’ for any length of time as pockets of moisture can quickly lead to black, mouldy grain which can contaminate the remainder of product. Black, mouldy grain can also taint the sample with a most unpleasant odour, rendering it unacceptable for consumption.
To discourage mould growth and insect infestation, the moisture content of seed stored on farm for the next season should not be over 13%. If the moisture content of harvested grain is too high, aerated storage will prevent spoilage. Alternatively, moving the grain from one silo to another on a warm dry day can help reduce moisture content by 1–2%.
Lentil seed is more prone to mechanical damage than most other pulses. Keep handling to a minimum, particularly when using screw augers.
Damage to silo side walls and even collapse can occur when emptying silos of stored lentil. Growers are advised to store lentil in field bin type silos with low walls or only partially fill taller silos. It is also advised that lentil grain be unloaded slowly and in smaller amounts than normally done with other crops.
Good grain hygiene is important with lentil. Contaminants such as insects and other grains and weed seeds are very undesirable. There is a nil tolerance of animal excreta, rodent carcases, moulds and offensive odours in lentil deliveries. Cereal grains and vetch are particularly difficult to clean out of lentil grain so it is important to take all measure to prevent contamination. Clean all harvesters, grain handling equipment and storage bins prior to harvesting each lentil variety.
Do not store lentil in grain bags (known also as silo, sausage or harvest bags) except as a very, very short-term option. Despite some success stories with lentil in grain bags, there have also been copious failures when appropriate precautions were not taken. Markets have rejected pulse grain because of objectionable taints and odours acquired during improper storage in a grain bag, which is a sealed storage with no aeration.
Lentil pods mature from the bottom of the plant (earliest flowers) to the top.
Croptopping for weed control usually means a portion of the lentil grain will still be immature (green).
Green kernel (right) from premature desiccation of red lentil. A mx. 1% is allowable in receivals.
Desiccation of PBA Flash lentils. Note the green plants growing in the previous wheel tracks.
Desiccation has the added benefit of drying down broadleaf weeds present at harvest.
Lentil is short and prone to lodging. Standing cereal stubble can help improve overall harvest efficiency.
Choose the correct harvesting equipment and settings to maximise grain yield.
Lentils often benefit from grain cleaning to remove contaminants such as cereals and weed seeds.
On-farm storage of lentils increases marketing options. Avoid the use of grain storage bags.
Marketing, enduses and standards
Lentil is grown only to supply human consumption markets, therefore achieving the high quality standard is essential. Australia is a significant exporter of red lentil, most of which is sold into the Indian sub-continent markets. The Australian red lentil prices can vary markedly and are strongly influenced by global markets and environmental conditions. A price of $400–500/t delivered is realistic for budgeting purposes, provided the product meets receival standards.
Green lentil is grown in smaller quantities and most is sold into markets in the Middle-East. Two new varieties released for the 2015 season, PBA Giant (a high yielding large green lentil) and PBA Greenfield (a high yielding disease resistant medium-sized green lentil) have increased the variety choice for growers and provided access to different markets.
Factors that may influence marketing decisions for Australian lentil farmers include:
- harvest quality and on-farm storage capacity
- the carryover stocks in Australia and the quality of this grain
- the farm’s proximity to local processors.
Lentil is traditionally the highest value winter pulse option for growers in the southern region. Some small-seeded varieties like PBA Hurricane XT, PBA Bounty and the superseded varieties of Nipper and Northfields have sometimes commanded a price premium. Large-seeded types like Aldinga can attract either a price discount or a price premium, according to supply and demand drivers. Prices for variety size categories can also vary from season to season based on supply and demand. Between 2010 and 2015 there has been little difference in the prices paid to Australian farmer for the different sized lentils.
The price of lentil as a commodity is relatively stable, rising and falling in line with supply and demand. Traditionally there were stronger market demands prior to the Ramadan festive season but the timing of the festival now has less impact on world price. The relatively small tonnage traded also means that any delay in harvest or shipping in an exporting country that threatens a contract being met can result in a ‘short’ or ‘spike’ in the market. These are normally short term and reflect a contractual supply problem rather than a fluctuation in the lentil market.
Variable costs of production for lentil can be higher than those applicable to other pulses, like field peas or lupins, depending on the inputs required to grow a high quality crop.
World production of lentil now exceeds 4.5 million tonnes annually, of which 40–45% is exported from the country of origin. This is in contrast to chickpea where almost double the tonnage is produced globally, yet less than 5% of production is exported.
Australian lentil grain is exported to over 40 countries including India, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Spain, Mauritius and France. Canada also produces large exportable quantities of both red and green lentil. Canada, USA and New Zealand are major export competitors to Australia in world markets for red lentil, and the volume and carry-over stocks impact on world prices.
For Australia to expand its world market share, growers and processors need to pay particular attention to the production of high quality, food grade lentil that will compete favourably with that produced in other countries. Poorer quality lentil grain is a marketing problem. Although they eventually become saleable it will usually be at a dramatically reduced market priority and price. Lengthy storage on farm may be necessary until markets become available, if at all. Badly weathered or damaged lentil grain may not necessarily find a market in stockfeed manufacturing markets either as feed manufacturers are often not familiar with lentil and are reluctant to make temporary changes to rations. See also 'Meeting lentil market requirements'.
At the time of planting for the Australian lentil crop, the Indian rabi production will be known and predicted Canadian and USA lentil sowing intentions will be published. Decisions on whether to sow lentils in Australia can be made based on current world production estimates and apparent deficiencies or likely surpluses.The Canadian and Turkish crop is harvested before the Australian crop, so this can impact on the demand and prices for Australian product, as can the expectations for the Indian lentil harvest. However, much can happen between the Australian sowing time and having product ready to export.
Building a relationship with a trusted lentil buyer or marketer will usually be very worthwhile.
National receival standards for lentil are set by the pulse industry and maintained by Pulse Australia. Receival and export standards reflect the market requirements for a quality food product. Varieties are segregated with only 1% maximum off-type variety grain allowed. Allowance for up to 1% contrasting colours of seed coat is allowable in specific varieties with that genetic trait (e.g. PBA Blitz with pale seed coat and PBA Herald XT with dense seed speckling). Seeds of contrasting colour are not classed as defective in these designated varieties.
Delivery into number 1 grade requires low discolouration or staining of grain seed coat (1% maximum) and lentil kernel (maximum 1% poor colour kernel), as well as low insect damage and breakages (defectives 3% maximum) and minimal foreign material or impurities (3% maximum). Sizing through round and slotted screens may also occur. Failure to achieve these receival standards may mean price discounts, re-cleaning or, if severe, market rejection.
- Defective grains: includes poor coloured grains, broken, damaged and split, shrivelled, distorted, grub eaten, sprouted and affected by field mould. Do not include contrasting colours in designated varieties.
- Poor colour: if seed coat or cotyledon colour is distinctly blemished and/or off-colour from the characteristic colour of the predominate class, including the 1% visible ascochyta.
- Contrasting colours: For designated varieties, contrasting colour of seed coat is seeds of the same variety that genetically has contrasting colours of seed coats.
- Foreign material: includes unmillable material and all foreign vegetable matter (includes cereals, wild oats, oilseeds, other legumes and weed seeds not otherwise specified).
- Unmillable material: includes soil, stones, metal and non-vegetable matter.
Nominated foreign weed examples
- Type 1 (4 per 200 g): three-cornered Jack
- Type 2: (nil per 200 g): wild garlic, coriander and any other tainting agents
- Type 3a (1 per 200 g in total): Bathurst burr, caltrop
- Type 3b (2 per 200 g total): vetches (tares)
- Type 3c (4 per 200 g total): heliotrope
- Type 4a (10 per 200 g total): cut leaf mignonette, melilotus (if no taint), nightshades, skeleton weed, variegated thistle
- Type 5 (20 per 200 g in total): knapweed, salvation Jane
- Type 6 (5 seeds or pods total per 200 g) medic pods, marshmallow pods, saffron thistle, wild radish pods
- Type 7a (10 seeds per 200 g total): other pulses
- Type 7b (10 seeds per 200 g total): cereals, turnip weed, bindweed
- Type 7c (1 seed in total per 200 g): safflower, sunflower
- Type 8 (100 seeds per 200 g): bellvine.
- Small foreign seeds (0.6% by weight): amsinkia, canola, charlock, marshmallow seeds, hedge mustard, etc
Senior Pulse Research Officer – Pulses, DEDJTR Victoria
Phone: 03 5362 2341
Senior Research Officer - Pulse Agronomy, SARDI
Phone: 08 8842 6265
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Last updated: 20 November 2015