PRICES for freshly harvested chickpeas have jumped by as much as $80 per tonne since mid-September as traders jostle for limited tonnage to supply the prompt container market.
Looking ahead, more accumulation can be expected for what looks like being the lone bulk vessel for this crop year.
Competition has lifted the delivered Darling Downs price to $800/t as packers compete for what remains unsold out of the Central Queensland (CQ) crop, estimated at 120,000-150,000t, and the southern Queensland and northern New South Wales crop, which could be as small as 20,000t.
“Most buyers on the Downs are paying around $800/t because there’s not much chickpea around,” Associated Grain accumulator Patrick O’Hara at Dalby said.
Downs packers are selling to export via the Brisbane delivered container terminal (DCT) market.
In years of normal chickpea production, CQ tonnage is accumulated for the bulk market for shipment out of Gladstone and Mackay, but the tiny crop on the Western Downs and Maranoa, the Qld/NSW border region and into northern NSW has created a pricing anomaly.
“Normally you would see the bulk market at $30-40/t above DCT, but the DCT market has really outshone bulk by $20-$30/t.
“This year, the shoe’s on the other foot. There’s not much out to the west of us, and chickpeas from the south are very low and dusty, so all focus is on the north. Everyone’s got guns blazing.”
Yields in CQ have varied widely, and mostly sit in the 0.25-2t per hectare range.
Harvest has progressed quickly.
It is thought to be about 80-per-cent complete in Queensland, and not far from starting in earnest in NSW after a run of very hot and dry weather.
Chickpeas from Rolleston to as far north as Kilcummin are being trucked south straight to Downs packers, and Mr O’Hara said the quality had generally been very good.
Yields of 4-5t/ha on a small amount of irrigated CQ farmland have boosted the region’s production.
“Bangladesh is picky on quality; they like nice white seed, and they’ve got that this year.”
Quality from the limited amount of chickpeas coming in from the Western Downs and Maranoa is also good, but yields have generally been low at around 0.5t/ha due to limited subsoil moisture and little in-crop rain.
Pulse Australia’s September crop report forecast Australian chickpea production from the harvest now under way at 269,300t.
Chickpeas are grown in central and southern NSW as well as the state’s north, and crops in the south have much better yield prospects than most in the north.
Those crops are some weeks away from harvest, and are likely to be exported through Melbourne or Sydney.
Bulk for Bangladesh
The only bulk tonnage that has been booked so far out of Queensland or NSW is 5000t for January shipment out of Mackay by Agrocorp-owned Associated Grain.
“We’re accumulating as much as we can, and we’d like to do a vessel of 20,000t for Agrocorp to sell to Bangladesh.”
Bangladeshi demand for bulk chickpeas is currently seen at roughly 200,000t, but given the strong container market, chances of a second bulk cargo out of Australia in the New Year look unlikely.
“I can’t see a vessel going out of Gladstone because the container market is so strong.”
Indicative on-farm pricing for the bulk market is around $750/t ex farm CQ, $30/t below what the container market can support at present.
Agrocorp is a regular buy of bulk Australian chickpeas, with Glencore, GrainCorp, GrainTrend, JK International and Phoenix Commodities among the others.
COFCO appears to have exited the Queensland chickpea market, while ADM has entered it.
Pakistan leads in August
Pakistan on 9342t was the biggest market for Australian chickpeas shipped in August, well ahead of exports to Bangladesh in second place on 5473t.
Pakistan is buying Australian chickpeas to supplement its own production, and its buying has helped to run down old-crop stocks of chickpeas held mostly on farm in southern Queensland and northern NSW.
India, which is believed to be buying chickpeas for re-export, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates, also bought a significant amount of containerised chickpeas for August shipment.
Table 1: ABS data for Australia’s June, July and August 2019 chickpea exports.
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