Cultivated Vetches and Their Utilisation as Grain Legumes

ref. Chap 1. Enneking, D. (1995) PhD thesis, University of Adelaide, South Australia

For the cited references, please, refer to the bibliography

The agricultural potential of Vicia and Lathyrus

There is currently a great need for alternative crops in the drier areas of the Southern Australian cereal belt, where cereal/fallow or cereal/pasture rotations are widely practised. The addition of further grain crops, such as oilseed Brassicas or grain legumes would permit a diversification of the cropping rotation to give better disease control. Delane et al. (1989) have given a detailed review of the role of grain legumes in sustainable dry land cropping systems.

Whilst peas and faba beans have been successful under medium rainfall and lupins on the lighter sandy soils, suitable grain legumes are lacking for the vast tracts of alkaline and often heavier soils in areas of South-Western Australia receiving less than 350 mm annual precipitation, comprising parts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Perry (1993) estimated that for Western Australia alone, 4 m. ha of alkaline soils are unsuitable for the cultivation of Lupinus angustifolius. These areas are potentially suitable for the cultivation of Vicia and Lathyrus species adapted to low rainfall and alkaline soils. These could reasonably be expected to become important crops for this region, provided that the produce can be utilised profitably.

Zohary (1973) pointed out that the large clusters of genotypes in the V. sativa-amphicarpa-cordata , the V. dasycarpa-villosa, V. narbonensis-serratifolia, V. pannonica groups represent a wide genetic base, which has remained largely unexploited for agricultural development. In the words of Houérou (1985) "The magnificent work carried out by the Australian agronomists on Mediterranean legumes particularly on Trifolium subterraneum, is justifiably famous and sets an example for the development of new legume cultivars." He emphasised that amongst other legumes, the genus Vicia, especially the species V. monantha (V. articulata Hornem.), V. benghalensis, V. villosa , V. sativa hold considerable potential for dry areas.

The general concept of replacing bare fallow fields with forage crops (Wilson, 1852; Carter, 1978) has given new impetus to research on legumes, including vetches. Considerable germplasm for species such as V. sativa, V. villosa, V. narbonensis, V. ervilia, V. pannonica, Lathyrus sativus, L. cicera , L. ciliolatus and L. ochrus has now been collected and, in part, has been evaluated at the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), in Aleppo, Syria since its conception (Saxena et al., 1993). In addition much valuable agricultural research work on Vicia and Lathyrus has been carried out at ICARDA with respect to grain and forage production and palatability studies (Abd El Moneim et al., 1988; Abd El Moneim et al., 1990a; Abd El Moneim et al., 1990b; Abd El Moneim, 1992;ICARDA, 1987; Thomson et al., 1986; Thomson et al., 1990; Keatinge et al., 1991; Rees et al., 1991; Saxena et al., 1993).This work is a direct continuation of earlier agricultural research work on Vicia (Durutan et al., 1990; Pacucci et al., 1984; Pacucci and Troccoli, 1981; Kernick, 1978; Christiansen-Weniger et al., 1978; Corleto, 1976; Radwan and Al-Fakhry, 1975; Radwan et al., 1974; Kuporitskaya, 1970; Corleto and Maisto, 1968; Tarman, 1964; Villax, 1963; Vasconcellos, 1962; Donnelly and Clark, 1962; Mateo-Box, 1961; Kansu, 1961; Janelli, 1960; Hermann, 1960; Lechner, 1959; Foury, 1954; Tarman, 1954; Laumont, 1954; Horn et al., 1943a; Horn et al., 1943b; Barulina, 1930; Muratova, 1931; Tupikova, 1926; Becker-Dillingen, 1929; Hegi and Gams, 1924; Fruwirth, 1921; Pott, 1907; Pott, 1880; and references therein). It should be mentioned at this point that for the purposes of this thesis much of the Eastern-European (e.g. Aralov, 1984; Aralov and Peretyazkho, 1989; Avadeni and Tarytsa, 1987; Avadeni, 1989; Izmalkov 1987; Klisha et al., 1985; Leokone et al., 1982 etc) and Spanish literature ( e.g. Gil et al., 1987; Gil and Martin, 1988) on Vicia has not been consulted in detail, due to the difficulties of language and inaccessibility of many reports, but nevertheless these should not be ignored by subsequent studies.

Vetch cultivation in Mediterranean agriculture is currently going through a renaissance, which could well lead to a revolution in the current ley farming and other cropping systems. The Australian version of the ley farming philosophy (Puckridge and French, 1983) can be extended in its practical scope by the inclusion of vetches (Vicia and Lathyrus) as additional legume species in cereal and cereal/pasture rotations. Vetches are multi-purpose crops allowing for either fodder conservation or immediate cash returns through hay or grain production, while at the same time providing a green manure and grazing option. In addition they are beneficial with respect to weed control as crops prior to pastures. The versatility of vetches complements the high production potential of medics and clovers, and together with other legumes such as Onobrychis, Ornithopus, Hedysarum, Astragalus, Trigonella, Melilotus and the pulses, they could increase the biodiversity of the legume component in Mediterranean agricultural systems. This will inevitably lead to increased animal feed production which according to Oram and Belaid (1990) is urgently needed in many areas.

It is also important to note, that in some situations, biomass production is considered more important than grain yield, and in order to improve the sustainability and productivity of dry land regions in developing countries, forage-livestock systems should be given as much priority as those for grain production (Steiner et al., 1988). Vicia and Lathyrus species are ideally suited for this purpose and represent an enormous pool of genetic diversity and adaptation for agriculture in temperate to sub-tropical regions.