Development of Vicia ervilia as a grain crop for Southern Australia

Dirk Enneking and Clive M. Francis

Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture, University of Western Australia, Nedlands WA 6009

Fax: 08-93801140, Ph:08-93801431, ; Ph: 08-93801878,

Vicia ervilia is a an ancient grain legume crop of the Mediterranean region (common names are: bitter vetch (English), kersannah (Arabic), yero (Spanish), rovi (Greek), burcak (Turkish)). The nutritional value of the grain for ruminant production has guaranteed the continued cultivation of V. ervilia in Morocco, Spain and Turkey. The crop is easy to cultivate and harvest and can be grown on very shallow, alkaline soils. Seed yields of 2 t/ha in a 350-400 mm rainfall environment are achievable. On good soils and with favourable rainfall (450 mm) more than 3 t/ha seed yield have been obtained in Spain.

In South Australian germplasm evaluation trials during the 1980s (David Georg) V. ervilia was amongst the most productive grain legume crops (others were V. sativa, L. cicera, V. narbonensis, P. sativum, V. faba) and gave the highest yields at one location (Boleroo). Recent germplasm collections in Morocco have also drawn attention to the drought adaptation of V. ervilia. The species is not commercially cultivated in Australia. The present project aims to evaluate the available genetic resources of the species for their utility as grain crops for Southern Australia.

Selections made from line RL120004 (synonym ATC 60396) have consistently shown good vigour and seed yields This line also performed best in David Georg's trials in SA. A cultivar is being described for registration this year (1997) and is to be released through SeedCo, SA. SA 14625 yielded best at Minnapa in 1996.

Bitter vetch grain when split resembles red lentils. For human consumption the bitterness of the seeds needs to be removed through leaching by several changes of boiling water. Due to its bitterness uninformed substitution for red lentils is not likely.

The grain is an excellent sheep and cattle feed concentrate. It has been held in high esteem by farmers in the Old World since the beginning of agriculture to improve the nutritional value of bulk feeds.

The crop can be grazed by sheep and cattle and seeding rates would need to be increased accordingly in order to guarantee a dense stand early in the season. There is no experience yet in Australia with on farm utilisation of this crop.

Limited information on herbicides suggests that the species has similar tolerances as common vetch (V. sativa). Aphids can severely reduce yields if not controlled during flowering.

A more effective Rhizobium strain has just been identified to improve bitter vetch nodulation in Australia and is to be trialled next year.

Several lines flowering ca. One week earlier than Languedoc vetch have been selected and are being tested at other sites this year.

This project is funded by GRDC