Cropping

Pulse Update: Markets flat as planting hits home straight

Liz Wells, June 20, 2022

A thriving crop of lentils growing in South Australia’s Murray Valley. Photo: Rebekah Starick

PRICE movements for Australia’s major pulses have been mixed and modest in the past month as planting of the winter crop enters its final weeks.

Only significant amounts of chickpeas remain to be planted now the seeding window for southern Australia’s major pulse crops has closed.

Following a hectic period of bulk shipments of faba beans and lentils, exports are expected to tail off as importer focus switches to Northern Hemisphere supply.

This includes Canada’s lentil crop, an improvement on last year’s drought-reduced offering, which is expected to hit the market in the second half of September.

2021-22 area 2021-22 tonnes 2022-23 area 2022-23 tonnes
Chickpeas 616,000 1,062,000 443,000 606,000
Faba beans 258,000 582,000 242,000 425,000
Field peas 192,000 261,000 205,000 238,000
Lentils 495,000 839,000 546,000 788,000
Lupins 497,000 958,000 425,000 619,000

Table 1: Estimates for Australian hectares planted and tonnes produced for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 crops. With the exception of field peas, all areas for major winter pulse crops are down to reflect increased canola and wheat plantings. Source: ABARES June 2022 Australian Crop Report

Chickpeas

Depressed prices for chickpeas have prompted a big swing out of what is traditionally the preferred crop to grow in rotation with wheat and barley in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

Less than half the intended area, seen by ABARES as down 28 per cent on last year, has been planted so far because of the lengthy rain delay encountered in southern Queensland and northern NSW.

Pulse Australia northern region agronomist Paul McIntosh said area was “absolutely definitely down,” even in Central Queensland (CQ), where canola and faba beans were not an option.

“I don’t believe our planting has finished; in 2016, an enormous amount went in in the first week of July,” Mr McIntosh said.

Indications are that total CQ chickpea area would be around 30,000ha, compared with the record 2016 planting of 180,000ha, and around half what the normal total.

“A lot more wheat and barley is going in in CQ; it’s been so dry up there for so long, and they’re planting mostly wheat, wheat and wheat to get some stubble on to the country.”

On the Western Downs of southern Queensland, the trend away from chickpeas is also evident as high cereal prices and a strong local market inspire increased plantings.

ABARES forecasts Queensland’s area now being planted to chickpeas at 185,000ha to produced 259,000t, down from 293,000ha which yielded 501,000t last year.

NSW chickpea area is seen at 220,000ha to produce 308,000t, down from 280,000ha which yielded 504,000t in 2021-22.

While CQ is still exporting good-quality chickpeas in bulk, most product still stored on farm in southern Queensland and northern NSW was downgraded by rain at harvest, and is unable to find a market.

Nominal bids from container packers are sitting at around $350/t, unchanged from last month, and the market is illiquid as growers hold out for higher prices.

Faba beans

Faba bean prices have firmed in the past month based on domestic demand buoyed by high cereal prices which are pushing both fabas and field peas to maximum inclusion rates in stockfeed rations.

Fabas beans delivered Melbourne are quoted this week at around $510-$520/t delivered Melbourne, up $20-$25/t on mid-May values.

Agri-Oz Exports François Darcas said export demand appears to be minimal now that Egypt, the world’s biggest importer of fabas, has ample cover out of Australia.

ABS data indicates Australia has shipped roughly 400,000t of fabas to Egypt from October 1 2021 to April 30 2022, around 20,000t below the amount shipped in the year to September 30 2021.

With another 53,000t being shipped May-June, the total for the year to September 30 2022 is expected to pass 450,000t.

“We are left with a very small demand for containers to other smaller importing countries,” Mr Darcas said.

“Stockfeed prices look like $10-$15/t lower than a month ago, but are still the best prices.”

The crop now in the ground in eastern Australia and South Australia is off to a mostly strong and early start, and planting is complete following the closure of the ideal window last month.

Lentils

Lentil prices have eased in recent weeks, with the delivered port market now at around $960/t, and up-country packers paying roughly $920/t, both down around $30-$40/t from mid-May levels.

ETG southern pulse trader Todd Krahe said a drop-off in trade activity has been seen after a flurry of mostly bulk export activity.

“It’s all a bit stagnant; there have been a lot of vessels loaded lately, and there are two more to go out of South Australia, and two out of Portland,” Mr Krahe said.

Mr Krahe is among those in the trade that feel most of Australia’s 2021-22 lentils have been sold, with the Bangladeshi, Egyptian and Indian markets being the volume buyers.

The continuing expense and difficulty in the container trade is manifesting itself with combination cargoes and two-port loads being more prevalent this and last season than ever before.

“We’re hoping that by harvest the situation with containers will improve.”

When containers are available in Australia, they are cycling quickly through the system, in contrast to many overseas ports were backlogs are huge and unloading delays of weeks rather than days are sometimes being encountered.

Sri Lanka’s economic difficulties are restricting its imports to business being done by only two or three counterparties, and on containers only.

Mr Krahe said Australian bulk cargoes were aiming to load by the first half of September at the latest in order to avoid head-to-head competition with Canada’s new-crop lentils.

“By the second half of September, Canada’s normally in full swing, and in Australia, we’d like to see our program wound up by then.”

Crop condition for the 2022-23 Australian lentil crop are seen as good to excellent at this early stage.

“Some growers are saying it’s almost off to too good a start; it’s one of the best seasons anyone’s seen this generation.”

“Some growers are saying it’s almost off to too good a start; it’s one of the best seasons anyone’s seen this generation.”

Mungbeans

Mungbeans harvested prior to the widespread rain in May are making around $1150/t for processing, and $1050/t for manufacturing.

However, consecutive rain events have impacted quality on most of southern Queensland’s and northern NSW’s mungbeans, and packers have been bidding them at around $450-$500/t inward weight prior to grading.

Growers in northern NSW and southern Queensland have welcomed a week or more of dry weather, and this will see the drawn-out mungbean harvest come to an end in the next 7-10 days if skies stay clear.

Starch and vermicelli manufacturing in China and Vietnam is expected to absorb the bulk of exports of graded weather-affected mungbeans, while heavily downgraded loads are going into domestic stockfeed rations, mainly for pigs.

 

 

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