Alton Downs farmer Peter Foxwell and Central Queensland University Associate Professor Dr Surya Bhattarai in 12 hectares of Eclipse soybeans, due to be harvested within the next week. Picture - Hayley Kennedy
Alton Downs farmer Peter Foxwell is one of two central Queensland growers involved in soybean trials this season looking at the possibility of drought tolerant varieties.
Mr Foxwell planted 12 hectares of the Eclipse variety on December 27 and said he expects to start harvesting within the next two weeks.
"There was full depth of moisture in the soil but the top was beginning to dry out, so I had to chase the moisture a little bit and they came up really well," he said.
"We had a little bit of rain a few days after they were out of the ground, in the first week of January, and that's the only rain they had all season, until a couple of weeks ago when they had a bit of a shower but it didn't go down into the roots.
"The pods are very full. To yield as well as they're going to yield, I'm pretty excited."
Mr Foxwell said if he'd grown mungbeans this year, he wouldn't be harvesting a crop because it was too dry.
"I find mungbeans aren't suited to these coastal conditions like they would be at Biloela or on the Central Highlands, but the soybeans would be suited equally as well on the Highlands or anywhere in central Queensland," he said.
"From what we've seen this year, the rainfall is probably less critical, and the way they grow, I think they like a heavy soil in a dryland situation that'll hold moisture.
"Where you probably wouldn't consider growing mungbeans, it opens up soybeans as a viable alternative to maybe sorghum or some other summer crops."
Mr Foxwell said in a rotation with something like sorghum or cotton, he though soybeans would fit well.
"The university is also doing soil tests on how much nitrogen the soybeans are fixing, but I've got a feeling it will be better than mungbeans, so it's got soil benefits as well," he said.
The Eclipse variety was pre-selected out of 20 genotypes supplied by Australian seed technology and development company, AgriVentis Technologies, based on glasshouse and small-plot variety trials.
"This year, February was one of the driest we've ever had, and to come through that like it has I'm quite pleased," Mr Foxwell said.
He said they had performed well despite a week of some 40 degree temperatures and high 30s for a couple of weeks.
"The soil was cracked and you could see that the plants were obviously thirsty, but they recovered each night," he said.
"They were extracting enough moisture out of the soil to keep them going and keep them flowering, right through that period they were still flowering and setting pods, so that was surprising to me to see they were handling high temperatures quite okay.
"If we have a wet year, it'll tell us a completely different story, so maybe next year we'll see different results."
Opportunity to target new markets
Ongoing trade disputes between China and the United States continues to provide Australian farmers with greater market opportunities. This time for soybeans.
The crop has traditionally been among the highest users of water, but Australian seed technology and development company, AgriVentis Technologies, is working to develop and breed more robust and drought-tolerant varieties.
Central Queensland University Associate Professor Dr Surya Bhattarai said China imports soybeans from the US to the value of USD $30 or $40 billion per year.
"Chinese importers are looking for alternatives, but for such a large quantity, there is nothing readily available," he said.
"They have tried to source it from South America, but what's happening is all the US soybeans are going to South America and then coming to China."
Dr Bhattarai said China's wariness of genetically modified crops also provided Australian growers with an advantage in the market.
"In Australia, the soybean industry has not developed for a number of reasons," Dr Bhattarai said.
"The price isn't attractive to the growers, there aren't many varieties for rain-fed systems, and Australia doesn't have the protocols for export of soybeans to China.
"We're looking at varieties that can be grown rain-fed, so we have been trialing these lines for the last year in glasshouses and small plots to look at whether they have features for cultivation, and now we're growing two varieties in the field with the hope of moving to commercialisation next season."