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Pulse Update: Planting advances in mostly good conditions

Liz Wells, May 18, 2020

Harvesting mungbeans on the Darling Downs last week.

EXCELLENT planting conditions for pulses in all states of Australia bar the west are seeing big areas of chickpeas, faba beans and lentils go into good subsoil moisture at the ideal time as the mungbean harvest continues in northern regions.

Concerns that China will impose a tariff on Australian barley have prompted some growers in southern Australia to drop a paddock or two of cereals for lentils or faba beans.

In Queensland, excellent subsoil moisture and dry topsoil are pushing some intended wheat area into chickpeas and faba beans, with both pulses ideally suited to sowing at depth.

Pulse Australia chief executive officer Nick Goddard said the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains in India in particular could affect global demand over coming months for the last of Australia’s old-crop and the crop now being planted.

“Things are looking pretty bright in terms of planting conditions for our crop,” Mr Goddard said.

“Some of those that have pulled out of barley in the past week or two have gone towards pulses, and the southern region is pretty much all planted now.

“Northern New South Wales is looking pretty good, but if some areas north of there don’t get rain imminently they might be forced to go with chickpeas or faba beans instead of wheat.”

Despite some logistics headaches being caused by COVID-19 lockdowns, containers appear to be available in adequate supply to clear out the last of Australia’s chickpeas and lentils, and move the mungbean crop now being harvested.

New-crop pulse estimates from national commodity forecaster ABARES are due out on 10 June.

Chickpeas

The biggest desi chickpea crop in Australia in three years is now being planted in Queensland and NSW.

Prices for October delivery onward to Darling Downs packers are sitting at around $630/tonne.

Growers in some districts between Moree and central Queensland have plenty of subsoil moisture but dry topsoil, and are putting in more chickpeas than initially intended.

This is because chickpeas can be planted with confidence at depth, whereas wheat germinates better when planted closer to the surface.

“New-crop is signalling reasonably strong values,” Woods Group accumulation and sales manager Steve Foran said.

He said while growers were keen to plant winter cereals to provide stubble cover, chickpeas were looking like a good option in light of how dry it had gotten.

“A few parcels of new-crop have traded, but it wouldn’t be 10 per cent of planted area yet.”

Mr Goddard said supply chains were finely tuned, and any further hiccups caused by COVID-19 could have a multiplier effect down the line.

“As the year progresses, India may get to the situation where they need to import.”

Otherwise, Bangladesh and Pakistan are expected to be the major new-crop markets for Australian chickpeas.

CHICKPEAS Hectares Tonnes
2017-18 1,075,000 998,000
2018-19 303,000 282,000
2019-20 263,000 281,000
2021-21 TBA TBA

Table 1: ABARES estimates of Australia’s three previous chickpea crops.

Faba beans

Faba bean area is already seen as being well up in NSW and Queensland in particular, where early rains have made this pulse popular for planting.

Like chickpeas, faba beans are suited to sowing at depth, and make them a good choice when topsoil is dry.

The new-crop delivered price of $400-$500/t is up to half what it was last month.

Australian Grain Export pulse trader Will Alexander said hopes for a sizeable tonnage from Queensland and NSW could augur well for early export sales, especially if the European crop has production issues.

“Egypt loves those early beans, so if we could get 50,000-70,000t out of NSW in October-November, that would be good for our market,” Mr Alexander said.

“The Baltic crop will be here in September, and if they have problems with quality, Egypt will come to Australia.”

Some growers and traders are still believed to be holding some old-crop faba beans, and they have traded recently at more than $700/t.

“Most people will get rid of those before the European crop comes along.”

FABA BEANS Hectares Tonnes
2017-18 313,000 416,000
2018-19 178,000 217,000
2019-20 196,000 327,000
2020-21 TBA TBA

Table 2: ABARES estimates of Australia’s three previous faba bean crops.

Lentils

Lentil stocks have run down to negligible levels following a big shipment program to Bangladesh.

“On old-crop crop lentils, we’re going to run out well before new-season becomes available.”

Small red lentils are nominally bid at $700-$800/t or more, but limited stocks mean limited trade.

“There’ll be more demand in coming months, and Bangladesh has been buying 20,000t a month of small red lentils.

“Australia exported 80,000t of them in March, and we’ve been shipping massive amounts for the past six or seven months, which has gotten rid of most of them.”

Mr Alexander said positive price signals, and some cribbing away from barley, could see lentil area up 10 per cent on  last year.

“All the talk is that acreage for lentils is up.”

Prices for new-crop lentils are sitting at around $650-$700/t delivered South Australian or Victorian packer, and strong yields are possible.

“Lentil crops can yield anywhere from one tonne to 4t per hectare, so we could be shaping up to a one-million-tonne crop.

“We’ve had a magic start.”

LENTILS Hectares Tonnes
2017-18 418,000 543,000
2018-19 303,000 323,000
2019-20 240,000 338,000
2020-21 TBA TBA

Table 3: ABARES estimates of Australia’s three previous lentil crops.

Mungbeans

Mungbean values have steadied at $1500/t for No. 1 grade, $1400/t for manufacturing and $1300/t for processing, with manufacturing down around $50/t in recent weeks.

The harvest now taking place in Queensland and northern NSW is around two-thirds complete, and Australian Choice Exports managing director and Australian Mungbean Association vice president James Hunt said the quality had been good.

Trade sources report there has been a greater-than-normal proportion of mungbeans make No. 1 grade, and less than normal go into the discounted processing category.

“They had a good start with a good profile of moisture and a dry finish, and it’s produced the even shiny beans that Australia is famous for,” Mr Hunt said.

China remains the largest market for mungbeans now being shipped, and interest from India has also been supportive.

“Notice was given by India of its intention to issue a licence to import, and some covering has happened because of that.”

However, the licence from India which will allow importers to source green gram, also known as moong, from Australia is yet to be issued, and this has allowed the market to soften a little.

The mungbean harvest in southern Queensland and northern NSW is all but over, with dryland yields on the Darling Downs at 0.7-1.3t/hectare in most cases.

The central Queensland mungbean harvest is well advanced, and will finish next month.

 

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