Pulse Update: Fingers crossed for late break in SA

Liz Wells June 12, 2024

Some lentil crops in SA like this one photographed in mid-May have germinated, but many more are yet to come out of the ground. Photo: Rebekah Starick

GROWERS have mostly finished planting Australia’s three major winter pulse crops amid contrasting starts to the season.

While Queensland and northern New South Wales have generally had an ideal start for their chickpea season with plenty of rain, conditions in South Australia remain concerningly dry for faba beans and lentils yet to germinate.

Many faba bean and lentil crops in Victoria have germinated amid mixed conditions, and faba beans in NSW which predominantly go into the domestic market are enjoying an ideal start to the season thanks to a wet autumn.

Prices for chickpeas, faba beans and lentils have firmed over the past month amid thin forward sales from growers.

ABARES last week released its estimates for Australia’s new-crop production, with chickpeas forecast at 1.15 million tonnes (Mt) from 730,000ha, faba beans at 515,000t from 274,000ha, and lentils at 1.6Mt from 885,000ha.

All prices are in Australian dollars unless stated otherwise.


Prices for chickpeas have firmed by around $50-$100 per tonne in the past month as Australia ingests the wonder of being able to export chickpeas into a tariff-free India.

All the action is taking place in the delivered port and track markets, with several cargoes of new-crop chickpeas already booked to sail out of Queensland ports from October on.

Despite ideal seasonal conditions in the key desi growing regions of Qld and northern NSW, grower selling is limited.

Sunrise Commodities director Scott Merson said price relativities indicate the action will not be in the delivered container terminal (DCT) market.

“Last week, DCT was trading at a discount to the bulk pathway,” Mr Merson said.

Chickpea 1 delivered Brisbane has traded in the past week or so at around $1100/t, and Mr Merson said while growers are sure they will get a crop, they cannot be sure of quality, and were therefore reluctant to commit to delivering the top grade, which is what exporters are chasing.

“People are bidding for CHKP1; they won’t write a multigrade.”

Subsoil and topsoil moisture profiles are ideal for desi chickpeas, most of which have been planted in the past three weeks.

While the weather in key growing areas has been clear and dry in recent days, growers are concerned spring could be wet, as was the case in the record year of 2016-17, when vigilance was needed to keep on top of fungal disease.

They are also concerned about overcommitting on quality, which took a hit in the wet harvest of 2022-23 and created large amounts of off-spec chickpeas.

Faba beans

Two cargoes of faba beans loading jointly in SA and Vic this month are expected to round out Australia’s bulk export program for 2023-24.

Grower selling has largely dried up amid the dry conditions, which have seen mixed farmers hang on to any unsold beans to feed to their own livestock, or sold earlier at historically strong prices.

Some shorts are still kicking around to get boats filled, and delivered port bids have hit $650/t, up around $100/t since early May.

Container exports of faba beans to Egypt have stopped, with vessels still unable to use the Suez Canal without fear of attack, and container vessels forced to reroute around West Africa, close to doubling the sailing time.

In SA, AW Vater & Co principal Kim Vater said the market was “very thin” for pulses in SA generally.

“Everything’s getting hard to find,” Mr Vater said.

“If growers have got anything to sell, they’re waiting for the season to break before they sell it.”

The vast majority of SA growers have sowed their crops dry, and germination rates are very low to date.

“There have been a few showers going through today, and a lot of people have had 6-15mm over the past fortnight.”

More showers are forecast for the coming fortnight, and the late general break means that the bulk of SA’s crops from the South East to the Eyre Peninsula will be germinating at the same time.

“Everyone is going to be on the same keel.”


Dry conditions in SA remain the No. 1 concern for 2024-25 lentils, which have been dry sown and could easily achieve average yields if at least 10mm of rain falls in the next week or two.

Patchy falls to date mean little of the SA lentil crop has germinated, but conditions are better in Victoria.

At Horsham in Vic’s Wimmera, ETG trader Todd Krahe said while the region’s crops will need more rain to ensure topsoil and subsoil moisture bands join up, the crop is travelling reasonably well as the grip of winter tightens.

“Compared to SA, we’re fairly comfortable, and crops are germinating with the moisture they’ve received in the past week or 10 days,” Mr Krahe said.

“It’ll be a slow-growing winter; we’ve had multiple frosts, and the soil temperature is down.”

A significant premium over new crop exists for lentils for July-August delivery up-country packer, with prompt lentils trading at around $920/t for Nipper types and $950/t for Jumbo, well above the $850/t being offered for new-crop.

The new-crop market is up around $10-$20/t on where it was last month, but Mr Krahe said family farmers were not ready to consider selling forward until they felt more comfortable about the season.

However, new-crop business is being written by exporters to South Asia who are confident of volume out of south-eastern Australia, even if it does not end up being the 1.6Mt forecast by ABARES.

Mr Krahe said Australian prices were competitive with Canadian lentils on current and new crop, although Canadian offers may become more aggressive thanks to what looks like a favourable end to its growing season.

“They haven’t been in the driver’s seat for some time, and we might be handing them back the reins.”

Bulk lentils are still being shipped out of SA, and industry estimates around 350,000t is still in grower and trader hands, with a reasonable amount already sold.

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