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Breeding narbon beans to establish a new crop for south eastern Australia

L.J. Mock, G.H. Castleman and W.S. Easton

Department of Agriculture, Mallee Research Station, Walpeup VIC 3507

Narbon bean, Vicia narbonensis is found as wild and cultivated plants in the Mediterranean and Near East regions. The species is referred to as narbon vetch and is a close relative of the faba bean, Vicia faba (2). It is not yet grown commercially in Australia but its occurrence overseas in regions of low rainfall and calcareous soils suggests that it has potential for improved adaptation to the alkaline sandy soils of the Mallee, where the current grain legume crops are not always viable.

Breeding commenced in 1986 with seven lines of narbon bean imported from Syria and France by individual institutions for agronomic evaluation in Australia. Eighteen lines from Syria and France were imported by the Mallee Research Station in 1987 and 1988. The South Australian Department of Agriculture introduced 144 lines of narbon bean for evaluation. This material has been used as a genetic source by the Mallee Research Station.

Between 1986 and 1990, 52 crosses were made using the imported material as parents producing 32 Fl. Fl plants are grown in the glasshouse. Single plants are taken from F2 populations and grown in rows in the field. F3 bulk selections are subjected to rigorous field assessment. F4 bulks are sown in replicated experiments as are the subsequent F5 generation. In 1991, eight plots of F5, from the first crosses, are in a replicated variety experiment.

Selection criteria for parents and lines include: grain yield, determinant flowering, even maturing, pods per plant, seeds per pod, resistance to shattering and lodging, pods set high on the canopy for machine harvesting, and protein content. Feeding experiments with poultry indicate that narbon beans have potential as a protein source (1). Not all selection criteria could be used in every year, due to climatic and disease variations. In 1987, a bacterial blight infection before flowering allowed selection for this trait.

Seeds vary in colour, shape and size. Some are large (0.28 g/seed), grey-green and indented and some are dark brown round types (0.24 g/seed). The latter type seem to have the highest grain yield potential, achieving up to 80% of the yield of peas in a comparative experiment. Small black round seeded types (0.17 g/seed) produce a slightly reduced grain yield.

Narbon beans have the potential for use as a crop for grain, fodder or green manure. If they are to become a viable grain legume for use as an alternative protein source in animal feeding, the breeding program must concentrate on selection for grain and protein yield and reduced levels of detected growth inhibiting factors when identified (1). These factors are being investigated by the Waite Agricultural Research Institute. The end use of narbon beans will determine which characters become important in the breeding program.


Eason, P.J., Johnson, R.J., and Castleman, G.H. 1990. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 41, 565-571.

Schaefer,H.I. 1973. Kulturpfl. 21, 211-273.

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