PRICES for chickpeas, faba beans, lentils and mungbeans have jumped by $50-$150 per tonne in the past month as export customers look to build stocks in response to COVID-19.
Helped by last month’s dive in the Australian dollar, destinations from Egypt to China have all been in the market in recent weeks, and markets for all major pulses excluding faba beans appear to be holding strong.
Australian exporters are dealing with the possibility of containers being in limited supply for new-crop mungbeans shipped out of Queensland in particular as COVID-19 continues to impact supply chains around the world.
Victoria and New South Wales have had good rain and are starting to plant their winter pulses, with faba bean seeding due to start late this month.
Conditions have turned dry for the Queensland mungbean crop and upcoming chickpea planting, and South Australia is in need of a general planting rain in the next six weeks to kick off its faba bean and lentil programs.
Prices for desi chickpeas have rallied on renewed demand from Pakistan and Dubai which has lifted the market for chickpeas harvested in 2018 and 2019.
Agrocorp’s Associated Grain accumulator Patrick O’Hara at Dalby said prices have rallied in recent weeks to reflect global concerns about food security as supply chains become interrupted by COVID-19.
Prices for new-crop chickpeas which will be planted by June have also rallied on the back of COVID-19 uncertainty.
Prompt delivered Downs packer markets have lifted around $50/t in the past month, and are trading at $780-$800/t for 2018-19 chickpeas and $830-$850/t for 2019-20 chickpeas.
The current-crop market sits at the midpoint of the market high seen offer Christmas at $980/t, and the low of $720/t seen last month.
Bangladesh has switched its buying attention from Australia to Myanmar, which is expected to sell around 20 per cent of its crop to its western neighbour.
Pakistan is harvesting its own chickpea crop now, but is bolstering stocks with Australian product.
Australia has a small domestic market for table chickpeas, and 9mm kabulis are being offered by growers at around $1000/t and meeting good demand.
Prices for 2020/21 desi chickpeas have risen from $620/t to $705/t delivered Downs in the past 10 days.
Given that no new-crop chickpeas have yet been planted, interest from buyers is unusually high.
Drying conditions in recent weeks are of concern for Queensland farmers as moisture is starting to escape disc planters.
“If growers receive as little as 20-30 millimetres of rain between now and the end of April, we will see some activity in southern Queensland.
“If we do not receive rain at all across the Downs, then winter-cereal planting will be reduced only to those willing to chance their arm by moisture-seeking wheat, barley and chickpeas.”
Central Queensland is a major chickpea-growing area.
It remains mostly very dry and in need of soaking rain to plant all intended area.
“Profiles are disappointing, given the amount of rain that these areas have received this season to date.
“South of Emerald, there is a lot of area available for a winter crop this year, given the small area planted to summer crop.
“They are after soaking rain across much of Central Queensland; otherwise, deep-sowing chickpeas into profiles that are only partly full will be an option for some.”
Pulse Australia director and Agri-Oz Exports managing director Francois Darcas said COVID-19 has led Egyptian households to stock up on faba beans as part of the worldwide trend to hoard consumables amid supply concerns.
“That has prompted a lot of importers to sell more than they normally would, and turn back to the market to buy more,” Mr Darcas said.
Australia’s main market by far for faba beans is Egypt, and a flurry of buying lifted prices by $60-$70/t to $780-$790/t delivered container terminal (DCT) in the past month.
“Since then, it has run out of puff, now that its government has put restrictions on cash withdrawals.”
“The market hasn’t traded in the past few days.”
“The offer might be $780/t DCT, but you can’t find a buyer at those levels.”
Mr Darcas said while Australia might have up to 100,000t of faba beans from the most recent harvest still to sell, the booking of another full cargo in the current crop year was unlikely.
“There may be a part cargo of wheat and fabas go to Egypt but logistically, it’s probably difficult to get enough for a full cargo into the one port.”
Pulse Australia’s latest Pulse Guidance Notes issued last month said Egypt has taken 20,000t across two bulk shipments of Australian faba beans, along with more than 50,000t of containerised beans.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are secondary markets for Australian faba beans, and demand from both remains minimal.
Moisture profiles for the upcoming new crop are mostly good in all areas bar South Australia, and sowing of faba beans is expected to start in NSW and Victoria after Anzac Day.
Australian lentils are in hot demand from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and are being shipped from Port Adelaide and Melbourne in reasonable volume.
Trade sources report COVID-19 is having a big impact on shipping services to and from North America, and this appears to be giving Australia an advantage over Canada to ship lentils in nearby slots.
The delivered-packer market this week for Nipper lentils is sitting at around $840-$850/t, up by as much as $80/t in the past 10 days, and a further $70/t in the previous fortnight.
Prices for Jumbo lentils at $825-$835/t are also up by around $150/t since mid-March.
“We’re seeing demand at destination for all types of lentils, both for prompt shipment and deferred months,” Australian Grain Exports pulse trader Will Alexander said.
The weaker Australian dollar, as well as coverage of trade shorts, has helped to fuel the market’s rise amid falling stocks.
“Farmers in Australia are now selling less as prices rally, which suggests a good proportion of our stocks are already sold.
“They are now looking at seeding in April-May and do not need to or care to sell.”
Prices for new-crop mungbeans have risen $100/t in the past month to $1500/t for No. 1 grade and $1400/t for processing.
Manufacturing-grade mungbeans are now fetching $1250-$1300/t, up from $1200/t last month.
Dalby-based Agrocorp chief executive officer Bhuvan Gandhi said a lack of recent rain in southern Queensland means the crop is finishing early.
Exporters including Agrocorp are hopeful but not confident the container shortage caused by COVID-19 will ease by next month in time for new-crop mungbeans to be shipped to India, which has recently reappeared in the market, and volume buyer China.
“We are seeing interest come through from India for processing-grade mungbeans.”
“We’ve been told there will be containers available in June, but everyone is expecting the crop to come off earlier, so that means we will be looking for equipment next month,” Mr Gandhi said.
“Buyers know it will be an earlier harvest than we were expecting, and we’re all going to be competing for space and equipment to ship mungbeans as early as we can.
“All we can do is hope for the best.”
The earliest Darling Downs crops are now being delivered to container packers, and harvest of the southern Queensland and northern NSW crop is expected to be over by the end of May.
Mungbeans in central Queensland were mostly planted in mid-February, and will start to come into container packers in June.
Industry estimates say 60,000 hectares of mungbeans have been planted this season, and an average yield of 0.85-0.9t/ha is expected.
NSW is expected to produce 5000t, and Queensland is pencilled in for at least 45,000t.
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