Faba beans find favour in NSW

Liz Wells, May 6, 2022

Nigel Newbigging inspects the family’s 2021 crop of faba beans growing at Peak Hill in central NSW. Photo: Dave Newbigging

RELATIVELY attractive prices for faba beans are likely to increase their area in northern regions this year at the expense of desi chickpeas.

However, recent rain in New South Wales and southern Queensland with more forecast could see growers revert some area intended for fabas to chickpeas, which can be planted well into June.

At Coonamble in north-west NSW, Delta Ag agronomist Tom Cullen said he has seen a big swing into faba beans in the face of high urea and low chickpea prices.

“In the last couple of years, I’ve only had three or four clients growing them, and now we’ve got 10 or 11.”

Faba beans leave more residual nitrogen after harvest than chickpeas, and following two big winter-crop years, Mr Cullen said soil tests were showing “very low levels” of plant-available nitrogen.

He said growers were keen to minimise future nitrogen outlays in the face of high urea prices, and were seeing faba beans as appealing primarily for this reason.

“Fabas have the ability to fix nearly double the nitrogen of chickpeas.”

“As agronomists, we want growers to have some chickpeas in the rotation, but it’s making it very hard to recommend chickpeas.”

Australian faba beans have been meeting solid demand in the past two years from export, and the domestic stockfeed market.

Mr Cullen said growers also see them as a valuable food for sheep on farm if the season turns dry and pastures need to be supplemented.

However, Mr Cullen said the wet conditions which have this week pulled up the frenzy of winter-crop planting activity could see the window for faba beans close before growers can get back on their country.

He estimates only around half of his clients’ intended faba bean area has been planted so far in the ideal April-May window, and into the full subsoil moisture profile faba beans require.

“This year, we have that luxury.”

Chickpeas are normally the preferred crop to grow in rotation with cereals in Queensland and northern NSW because they are renowned for accessing subsoil moisture in drier seasons.

However, most of the northern region has had soaking rain in recent months, apart from Central Queensland, which is forecast to get at least 50 millimetres in the coming week.

Chickpeas languish

Demand for chickpeas is negligible for a number of reasons, and prices in northern NSW have dropped to close to $400/t on farm for good-quality loads, and less than $300 for weather-damaged ones which are selling in small amounts as domestic stockfeed.

Faba beans, however, are trading at well over $400/t on farm, and often yield at least double chickpeas.

In north-west NSW, chickpeas have been geographically disadvantaged by not having a pathway to bulk export ex NSW, and rain during last year’s harvest downgraded later crops to make them unsaleable in the current export market.

India’s rabi season harvest is all but complete, and has produced another big crop of chickpeas.

This means India, traditionally Australia’s biggest chickpea market by far, is likely to maintain its prohibitively high tariff on chickpeas in the short term.

In its latest Pulse Guidance Notes, Pulse Australia (PA) said the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AI-ECTA) signed last month was a positive for Australia in many respects, including showing a willingness to strengthen trade relations.

“Chickpeas did not get a look-in with this agreement, which is a disappointing outcome.”

“Negotiations are ongoing for the final AI-ECTA, expected in early 2023, and there remains scope to continue to develop concessions for chickpeas.”

PA said Australian growers were aware that India remains closed for chickpeas, and the market for desi types is being driven by a poor crop last year in Pakistan.

“Watch this, because if Pakistan does not come back again, we will likely have too much tonnage to place, with a carry-out already likely.”

“Bangladesh is a stable market but would not absorb the extra.”

Mr Cullen said many growers still have unsold chickpeas from last year’s crop stored on farm, another reason for turning away from growing as big an area of them this year.

Both Central Queensland ports plus Brisbane have shipped bulk chickpeas harvested prior to the rain, nearly all to Bangladesh, and Brisbane has also done at least two bulk shipments of faba beans harvested last year.

However, the massive size of the NSW 2021-22 wheat and canola crop appears to have left no room for bulk pulse exports, and NSW pulses being shipped in bulk are going by road to Brisbane, Victoria, or South Australia.

ABARES and PA are yet to release their estimates for Australia’s 2022-23 chickpea and faba bean crops, but early indications are that the NSW chickpea area will drop at the expense of canola, faba beans and field peas. Table 1 shows ABARES state-by-state chickpea 2021-22 season area and quantity published in March 2022. ABARES publishes national data, not state data, for faba beans.

Chickpea ha Chickpea tns Faba beans ha Faba beans tns
Qld 293,000 501,000 NA NA
NSW 280,000 504,000 NA NA
Vic 30,000 40,000 NA NA
Tas 0 0 NA NA
SA 8,000 11,000 NA NA
WA 4,500 6,500 NA NA
TOTAL 616,000 1,062,000 258,000 582,000

Table 1: Chickpeas (including kabuli-type) area and production by state. Faba beans production total. ABARES does not issue estimates by state for faba beans. Source: ABARES March 2022.

Fabas in demand

Egypt is the world’s biggest faba bean market (table 2), and PA said Egypt has showed record demand for beans in 2021, which has continued into 2022 and is likely to keep going.

“Normally Egypt would take a lot of beans from eastern Europe, mainly Estonia and Lithuania, but with war on their doorstep, this is now uncertain.”

Faba beans 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 to Feb
Egypt 192,496 202,686 422,033 302,248
All destinations 283,125 324,176 567,185 342,769

Table 2: Australian faba bean exports in tonnes for Oct-Sep marketing years. Source: ABS

South Australia and Victoria grow the vast majority of Australia’s export faba beans, and are being shipped to Egypt in full cargoes, or part cargoes along with some hatches of lentils.

“Bean exports will continue right through 2022, with potential for a small carryover to 2023.”

PA said domestic buyers are interested in faba beans and field peas as the stockfeed market is short on protein, and is railing against paying big prices for imported soymeal.


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