Grain Prices

Lacklustre lentil prices offset by varietal improvement

Henry Wells, November 20, 2017

LACK of demand from importers for lentils explains why prices this year are less than half what they were last year.

New lentil varieties and farm practices have helped profitability, though prices this year have fallen.

Traders who spoke to Grain Central said stock was being carried overseas, and had not been consumed yet; a situation similar to that of chickpeas.

The record 2016 lentil crop in Australia was shipped to South Asia markets including India where it was put into storage for sale and has stayed since.  The result is that today no importer market wants to engage.

Although demand is flat at present, the pluses of lentil gross margins mostly outweigh the minuses over the long term.

PBSeeds commercial manager Janine Sounness said adoption of new varieties and farm practices had not only seen lentil profitability improve in traditional areas, but also seen the crop expand into rotations in country previously considered marginal.

“The national breeding program has addressed making varieties suit different farming systems, soil types and regions.”

Woomelang, Victoria, farmer Chris Kelly said new varieties and better farm practices had made a difference.

He said farmers who stuck with lentil production since 2000 had ironed out problems slowly but surely, even though season conditions were hit-and-miss.

“There were plenty of misses, but those farmers were the first to use rollers on lentils which made the crop easier to harvest, they were the first to trial new headers that could flex down to an inch off the ground, and they were the big winners in big seasons like 2010, 2013 and 2016.”

2017 crop – early days

Yields of lentil crops around the country are mixed.  Some great results have been reported in Western Australia this year, between 2.0 tonnes/hectare and 2.5t/ha, while top results on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula region have come in at 3t/ha, the good crops typically yielding 2-2.5t/ha.

“Pulse Australia’s forecast had the national lentil crop this year around half a million tonnes,” Adelaide-based broker Tim Teague said.

“We will see how it turns out after the  frost event which occurred in Victoria early November, but the South Australian lentil crops north of Adelaide weren’t affected.

“The statewide average yield for SA would be something like 1.4t/ha, and that’s half what it was last year.

“Last year’s success happened in newer areas, such as the Mallee, which jagged some big yields from the extraordinary season.

“The odds are against them for that to happen again too soon.”

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