- The person pays a once-off joining fee ($50)
- The person has applied for 5 organic shares at $10 per share
- The person is able to use or contribute to the services of the co-operative
- Is supportive of the overall mission of ORICoop
The little known lupin is likely the most powerful superfood you’ve never heard of. While lupins have been used as a food for as much as 6000 years in the Andean highlands and over 3000 years around the Mediterranean, they are slowly making their way onto supermarket shelves in Australia and around the globe. Meanwhile, farmers are recognising their multiple advantages in both sustainable cropping systems and as a high-protein addition to animal feed.
With over 200 species, lupins are grown in a wide array of regions across the globe, ranging from the Mediterranean to the southwestern United States, northern Mexico to both eastern and western parts of Australia. Two varieties of lupin are most commonly grown in Australia, with the majority of lupin production occurring in the winter/spring rain-fed parts of southwestern Western Australia. Australia produces about 730,000 metric tonnes of lupins per year, the equivalent of approximately 80–85% of the world’s lupin production. About 30% are used domestically within Australia, while approximately 70% are exported to Asia, North Africa and the Middle East for animal feed. As a high-protein grain, lupins are most commonly grown and harvested for human and animal consumption, yet they also hold many advantages in both cropping and mixed cropping–livestock farming systems.
Farmers can enrich their soil naturally by planting an annual that produces a kaleidoscope of pea-like flowers with bold spikes of vibrant purples, pinks and blues, rich reds and yellows, or crisp, clean whites, attracting a range of pollinators including bees and butterflies. In regenerative cropping systems, lupins produce a significant nitrogen contribution for subsequent crops in soils. They provide a disease break for cereal crops and can help control grass weeds within well planned cropping sequences. With taproots that stretch deep into the earth, lupins are drought-tolerant and also help break up compacted soil. When lupin plants die back, the taproots slowly break down, increasing the organic content in the soil, helping the soil retain water. These combined benefits can increase the yields of cereals following lupin crop rotation, particularly when grown in sandy soils.
The nutrient content of lupin grain, in protein, amino acid, energy and mineral levels makes it both a nutritional and economical addition to stock feed formulations. Among the various grain legumes used in stock feed, lupins can be used as an alternative to soybeans and are highly regarded as feed for poultry, pigs, ruminants, and fish. Research has shown that replacing soybean meal with lupin meal as an alternative poultry protein feed source reduces cost of production and improves poultry egg productivity. In other studies, using lupin grain in feed rations has been shown to increase the milk production of beef and dairy cattle. It can be more valuable to include in the diet than cereal grain because it tends to not lower the fat content of milk (as high levels of cereal grains may do). Researchers have also investigated the potential for lupin grain to be used as a plant based feed source in aquaculture operations and found that lupin was particularly useful for fish diets because of the highly digestible level of protein, good levels of digestible energy and highly digestible phosphorus.
While the crop is grown mostly to produce stock feed, there is a small, but growing market for lupin grain for human consumption. Lupins are slowly growing in popularity among consumers due to their many health benefits: protein-rich, highly nutritious, sustainable, and versatile, lupins are a powerhouse of goodness. They are one of the richest sources of plant protein and fibre (at least twice as much as other legumes) and packed full of nutrients and antioxidants including thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc. Eating lupin beans has been linked to lowering blood pressure, improving blood lipids and insulin sensitivity and favourably altering the gut microbiome in studies. The Australian food industry is beginning to recognise the value of lupin and a range of lupin products are now available, including whole lupin flakes, flour, crumb, semolina, or enriched food products such as pasta, cereal and cookie mix.
ORICoop has been working with key organic growers in Western Australia and the Riverina – to expand and diversify their crop selections to include lupins. This provides producers a unique and valuable intercrop option – and enables a strong cash crop for organic dairy and poultry producers. ‘There is a strong appetite for lupins as a livestock feed, and with our Farmers Own ‘ORCA’ Brand we are pushing through the barriers to get bulk lupins from growers to end users in Victoria, Southern Australia and Queensland. Our next ambition is to tap into strategic export markets. This legume has a well deserved place of prominence in the organic and regenerative cropping market – and we are looking forward to it’s initiation across the Australian organic sector’ says Carolyn, ORICoop Executive Director
Ian and Jodi are well experienced with growing lupins in Western Australia. And are thriving in growing them under an organic system. ‘Lupin crops play a pivotal role in the viability of organic and regenerative farming systems in Western Australia. They present to the farmer a range of critical advantages over other crop rotation options available such as suitability in deep acid sandy soils, excellent nitrogen fixation capability, disease resistance and disease break for other crops, impressive stockfeed quality and volume of post harvest residues and competitive demand and value of lupin seeds.
Nitrogen is typically applied to a crop in the form of urea, and although urea application can result in vigorous crop growth it has a hidden destructive action on soil health and long term fertility that requires additional fertilisation to overcome. Organic and regenerative farming systems limit or prohibit the use of urea for this reason. Lupins can fix similar levels of nitrogen from the atmosphere directly into the soil naturally and even increase soil health making them the goto natural fertiliser for the environmentally conscious consumer and farmer. The lupin seed and after harvest crop residues provide an additional benefit of an outstanding high value stockfeed source for grazing ewes and lambs. Ewes and lambs grazing or being fed lupins outperform those running on grass crop feeds and harvest residues providing substantially more lambs and reach market weight far quicker than those running on grass crop grains and residues.
With its unique macro and micro nutrient composition, there is growing evidence that incorporating lupin ingredients into animal and human diets can have direct health benefits. On farms, the benefits range from improved soil structure and water efficiency to increased yields and profitability. With its wealth of advantages, lupins are fast becoming a key ingredient in sustainable agriculture and sustainable diets.
To enquire about bulk lupins you can contact ORICoop HERE
Story written by Eva Perroni
Located just north of the Great Eastern Highway, approximately 1.5 hours’ drive east of Perth, Jodi and Ian James have established a thriving farm with multiple species companion cropping in the golden outback town of Meckering. Located on the traditional lands of the Ballardong Nyoongar people, the township of Meckering derives its name from an Aboriginal language and means ‘place of water’ or ‘moon on water’, and it is precisely this substance that led to the expansion of farmland in the area. Ian and Jodi’s farm is called Whare Koa, a Maori name meaning ‘happy home’.
Ian’s family were originally farming further north in the more marginal areas of the Wheatbelt, when as part of his farming education he traveled overseas on Agricultural Exchange to Sweden. While on exchange, he was badly injured in a severe car accident, totally disrupting his life. Ian spent a few years recovering overseas before making the decision to return home.
At this time in the early 1990s, he first heard about the potential impacts of climate change in the early 1990s. Climate predictions indicated that weather patterns and temperatures were to get drier and hotter, with the frequency, intensity and duration of hot spells likely to impact the landscape and the human and agricultural systems dependent on it. In a candid conversation with his father, Ian explained, “if it gets any drier or hotter here, we’re done for. We’ve got to buy land south before it gets too expensive.”
Shortly afterwards, the family purchased farmland in Meckering 200 km south, it was decided that Ian should settle on the Meckering farm while his mother and father would stay on the northern property for some years before later selling and retiring from farming.
The Meckering landscape is largely comprised of sand plains, flat with rolling shallow broad valleys and peppered with creeks. Ian refers to the low inherent fertility of the sands as ‘light country’, lacking the nutrients necessary to produce a healthy strong crop with sufficient yields. This is typically addressed in conventional systems by applying considerable doses of synthetic fertiliser. However, the quick draining habit of sandy soils makes it hard for the soil to hold onto the fertilisers applied.
“Fertilisers and chemicals are a mask. They’re just putting into the soil what the crop needs, but the soil is being robbed of what sustains it: organic matter and biological diversity,” says Ian.
When they first began farming in Meckering in the late 1990s, the James’ were following conventional best practice but they began to realise the limitations of this approach in such low-nutrient soil. By the time Jodi and Ian were married, it was becoming obvious that the intensification of land use under conventional cropping methods and long-term fertiliser application was depleting their soil further. Their farm lacked the scale to justify the investment in the large agricultural machinery and equipment necessary to support a conventional farming enterprise that would turn a modest profit. Yet their smaller equipment was turning their daily farming grind into a harder operation than it should be, and they were struggling to get through their routine farming activities.
After experiencing a couple of consecutive dry seasons, Ian could no longer ignore the changes in climatic conditions and their impact on their farming system and finances. The hotter seasons were becoming drier, the wet seasons shorter, and their struggles intensified with the cumulative effects of drier conditions, poor-quality soils and the low resilience of plants. Neighbouring farmers imparted their advice, “you need to spend more money on fertilisers and chemicals.”
Cultivating opportunity from crisis
Ian and Jodi were already spending more money on chemical inputs than what they were earning, sliding deeper into debt with each passing year. A particularly bad year placed them on the precipice of financial ruin while their input bill had blown out beyond viability. Farming to the very brink of possibility and liability within a conventional agricultural system and failing to get sufficient yields in return, Jodi decided to explore a way in which to farm without the added cost of increasingly expensive inputs. Coming close to crisis instigated an ongoing pursuit of knowledge for organic and regenerative agricultural techniques and soil biology.
“It was tough at first, but we were committed to learning. We adapted, trialled and discovered new techniques,” recalls Ian.
With an imperative to secure the future of their farm, Ian and Jodi selected methods to improve soil health and fertility and reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers. Conversion to organic became a process of experimentation, observation, learning and reflection.
“Every year, our farm is improving, and it’s improving exponentially. Every year we see this low-fertility country getting stronger and stronger naturally. And we can see it visually: it darkens with the carbon. Organic soil carbon is the foundation of soil fertility.”
This experiential knowledge of building natural soil fertility was key to reducing their farm’s exposure to volatile input prices and ensuring their farm’s survival.
“One by one, farms around us were sold,” recalls Ian.
The issues he had noticed affected the whole industry.
“Many families in the district left farming and were gradually replaced by bigger operations, but we’re still here. Many of the farmers who said to me that we were going to go broke [pursuing organic agriculture] are now gone.”
Together, Ian and Jodi are continuing and improving the regeneration of their farming landscape. They employ multi-species cropping methods, planting grass crops, plus oats, rye, wheat, and also lupins and approximately three or four other species of legumes. Planting diverse and beneficial plants provides a food source for a broader range of soil biology, lifting the resilience and fertility of the land, improving the soil function, structure and water-holding capacity and continuing to value-add to the productivity of the landscape.
“The soil was pretty highly degraded because of past practices, but it has responded amazingly to biology and lupins love it. We worked out organics suits light land farming, and lupins in particular as part of a multi-species cropping program are the key to it. Lupins are yielding about twice as much as grass crops.”
For the love of lupins- the real regenerative legume
With over 200 species, lupins are grown in a wide array of regions across the globe, ranging from the Mediterranean to the southwestern United States, northern Mexico to both eastern and western parts of Australia. Two varieties of lupin are most commonly grown in Australia, with the majority of lupin production occurring in the winter/spring rain-fed parts of southwestern Western Australia. As a high-protein grain, it is commonly grown and harvested for human and animal consumption, yet it also holds many advantages in both cropping and mixed cropping–livestock farming systems.
Lupins produce a significant nitrogen contribution for subsequent crops and can increase the availability of phosphorus in soils. They provide a disease break for cereal crops and can help control grass weeds within cropping sequences. Other benefits include improved soil structure, increased water use efficiency of subsequent crops, and increased yields of cereals following lupin crop rotation, particularly when grown in sandy soils.
“Lupins are a fantastic tool for an organic farmer, because chemical nitrogen, although widely available and fairly cheap, is not an organic substance. It kills biology and basically destroys sustainably. Whereas lupins create a perfect environment for other crops to grow, like grass crops,” notes Ian.
A member of the pea family, lupins produce an assorted palette of pea-like flowers with bold spikes of vibrant purples, pinks and blues, rich reds and yellows, or crisp, clean whites. When the lupins come into bloom on Jodi and Ian’s farm, the whole paddock is transformed into a sea of brilliant white. When pulled from the ground, the symbiotic relationship between lupins and the nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria rhizobia is visually evident in the small nodules that form around the plant’s roots. The increase in microbial activity and associated improvement in soil structure also maximises the retention of moisture in the soil, an important element in building the adaptive capacity of their farm in light of shorter wetter seasons and climatic variability.
In addition to a healthier farm, Ian and Jodi are now spending a lot less on (organic) farm inputs while receiving a price premium for their organic products. Ian estimates that a conventional farmer would have to produce roughly four times their yield to make the same profit.
Finding solutions to systemic industry problems
While Ian and Jodi have generated many on-farm improvements, limitations in existing organic industry structures and networks made it difficult to access markets within Australia to sell their lupins. While a few organic dairy farmers within Western Australia were purchasing their lupins to form part of their animal feed, Western Australia has a relatively small organic domestic market when compared to the eastern states. Ian discovered that the supply chain for many organic products is relatively undeveloped, particularly for many broadacre products, and there are significant problems relating to a lack of scale in the handling of grains.
Freight costs to the eastern states were also proving to be prohibitively high, particularly with the additional financial pressure points that COVID-19 and the energy crisis have added. Ian and Jodi were looking at a freight bill that amounted to two-thirds of their total farm gate price for their lupins, making it non viable to sell their product into the Eastern States.
The ORCA project endeavours to unlock some of these barriers by looking at better market opportunities for organic producers that allow more resilient profitability and increase the transparency of these grains direct from farm to end processor. The wider connections and network facilitated by the ORCA project allowed Ian and Jodi to interact with other producers and processors to tap into demand for their lupins and organise a shipping chain that was affordable and viable. ORCA has now facilitated its first shipment of over 100 tonnes of organic lupins from Western Australia to Melbourne and Brisbane. And the original ORCA Riverina project has been expanded to include ORCA producers in Western Australia thanks to funding from the Sustainable Table Fund
Another barrier endemic to the Western Australian organic industry is a lack of processors suitable for organic grains. Western Australia only contributes around 10 percent of the total Australian production of organic livestock, vegetable, fruit and grains, so the current demand is not high enough for processors to warrant the costs associated with organic management and certification for processors. Whereas organic agricultural production and demand are much higher across the Eastern States.“Through ORCA’s assistance, we’ve managed to tap into that processor capacity which is available in the east,” says Ian.
He believes these supply chain bottlenecks can be overcome through greater collaboration and investment.
“We need to band together as organic farmers in an organised manner to share and leverage our capital and asset base and share the costs and organisational capacity to set up processing and storage capacity and store grains in a way where our premium organic product is not going to deteriorate.”
“We have to be able to attract government assistance and strategic investment, get organised, and work together to set up suitable infrastructure and put the structures in place, so we can delegate management to people who hold expertise in these [processing and value-adding] techniques and skills and put those people into places, so we (producers) can get back to the business of farming. ORCA enables us to do just that”
The future lies in farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange
Ian believes that local farmer knowledge is a valuable resource to reorient modern agriculture towards more sustainable and resilient paths of development and draw in the next generation of farmers. A lot of this knowledge has been lost over time with the spreading of the conventional agricultural paradigm and the standardised, highly industrialised external input solutions it puts forth. Rebuilding formal and informal knowledge exchange and learning between farmers is central to strengthening agricultural sustainability and resilience.
Innovative farmers like Ian and Jodi are using high-performance organic and regenerative landscape management methods and fighting the trend of the continued degradation of the landscape and soil through conventional agricultural methods with their heavy reliance on external inputs. They are demonstrating sustainable, regenerative practices on their land, as are many organic, biodynamic and regenerative farmers across Australia. With relevant policies and incentives, these practices could be extended successfully and quickly to involve a significant number of Australia’s current and next-generation farmers. Whilst there are always opportunities to learn more, enough is already known to take action now.
“The real wealth we have is our knowledge. And we can share that with the next generation and with current farmers that are frustrated by their lack of market access and price premiums. That’s what we should be doing as farmers. That’s how we can capture the value of organic farming: by focusing the energy into teaching the next generation and current farmers.”
Written by Eva Perroni as part of the ORCA project