Growing lentil in Victoria
Lentil (Lens culinaris) is a free-standing legume divided into two sub-species:
- the cultivated variety ssp. L. culinaris
- its wild relative ssp. L. orientalis
Lentils are highly sensitive to saline, boron and sodic soils. Implications include:
- limited root growth
- root depth
- moisture extraction capabilities
The plant has many branches and can grow to the height of 15 to 75cm, with pods containing 1 to 2 seeds, stubble retention and reduced tillage systems where possible are beneficial plant support.
Soil structure and drainage are important for higher yields.
Lentils should not be sown in a lentil, chickpea, faba bean or vetch containing paddock more than once every 3 years. This program allows a break from possible disease harbouring.
Early sowing generally increases potential yields, but also increases the likelihood of crop lodging. Make sure there is good soil moisture before sowing and that seed has been coated with group F inoculant.
Sowing depth should be 4 to 6cm — this depth protects seed from herbicide damage and offers an optimum environment for rhizobium survival.
Target plant density should be 120 to 150 plants per metre — higher density rates for lower rainfall areas and short season environments is recommended.
An ideal germination percentage is 80%. If less, sowing rates may need to be increased to compensate.
Seeding rate (kg per ha) = Plant density (plants per m2) × 100 seed weight (g) × 10 divided by Germination percentage
Lentils require a minimum of 350mm rainfall a maximum of 550mm — in the higher rainfall areas good drainage is essential. Waterlogging will have a great effect on yields and disease spread.
Drought and severe or prolonged hot weather combined with wind, heavy rain drops or hail — can cause loss in yields through pod cracking.
Prior to sowing of lentil (no more than 24 hours) seed should be inoculated with Group F inoculum (rhizobia). A dressing of DAP diammonium phosphate (50 to 60kg per hectare) will provide the phosphate and nitrogen requirements of the plant.
Redlegged earth mite (Halotydeus destructor) is a black-bodied mite with red legs. It damages seedlings as they emerge.
Cowpea aphid (Aphis craccivora). Moisture stressed crops are susceptible to aphid infestation, especially when the atmosphere is dry and when warm weather occurs in autumn and spring.
Lucerne flea (Sminthurus viridis) is a small (2.5mm), wingless, light green hopping insect. It chews through leaves in layers resulting in 'window-pane' like holes.
Native budworm (Helicoverpa punctigera). The caterpillar damages maturing seed in pods during the flowering and podding stage of plant growth.
Ascochyta blight (Ascochyta lentis) causes black lesions on the stem and the wilting of plants. Variety selection, seed treatment and fungicide sprays are important management practices.
Botrytis grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) is another serious disease in southern Australia. It attacks the base of the stem and the collar region of young plants, where a soft rot develops and then becomes covered with a fluffy grey mould, infected seed is white and chalky in appearance.
Phoma is a seed-borne infection that results in black-brown discolouration of the root near where the seed is attached. Blackening may spread up the root and cause lesions at the base of the stem. Black lesions may completely girdle the base of the stem and root where infection is severe.
The lentil disease management guide and Pulse Australia are excellent reference points for further detail.
If a paddock has BGM or aschochyta blight history, only choose paddocks that are a minimum of 500 metres from the disease paddock for the next few seasons. This will go a long way to preventing disease spread.
Diseases can spread through continual same crop production, wind (spores) and machinery. Adequate machinery hygiene and good management practices will prevent or mitigate the effects on crop health and harvest yields.
Harvest lentils when the lowest pods on the plant start to turn light brown and light shaking of the pod produces a rattle. Seed moisture should be 14%.
See the Victorian Winter Crop Summary for an up to date guide to lentil varieties.