Markets

Pulse Update: Rain catches harvest tail

Liz Wells, December 15, 2023

A lentil bunker at ETG Processing’s Wimpak site at Minyip, Vic, grows ahead of last month’s rain. Photo: Wimpak

RAIN in later-maturing regions of South Australia and Victoria has caught the tail end of Australia’s faba bean, lentil, field pea and lupin harvest.

However, the majority of crops were in the bin ahead of the rain, with quality and yields generally good.

Supply-side pressure from pulses sold straight off the header has dwindled as growers wait to get a better quality picture after recent rain and storms which have caused some downgrading and yield losses.

The upside of the recent rain is that it has bolstered planting and establishment prospects for mungbeans, Australia’s main summer pulse.

Chickpeas

The chickpea harvest finished last month in the key growing regions of Queensland and northern New South Wales.

ABARES last week revised its estimate for the crop to 528,000 tonnes, down 5000t from its September estimate.

Shipping stems indicate a maximum three handymax cargoes will depart Qld ports by mid-January to arrive in South Asia ahead of the start of Ramadan on March 10.

In addition to four cargoes shipped from Qld since September, this will account for roughly one third of new-crop volume as shipped to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The delivered Brisbane market is quoted at $850 per tonne, down $20/t from last month, as covering for prompt shipment dwindles.

“Bids have dried up and it’s very quiet,” one trader said.

Container rates have fallen to levels where they are competing with bulk, but traders generally are being judicious about writing bulk or boxed business with Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, all of which face issues in opening letters of credit.

Bids being shown to Australian growers have eased in the past fortnight to the point where growers are now storing chickpeas on farm in the hope that they can sell to container packers or bulk accumulators in coming months.

“The balance sheet tells you they’ve got to be out there; we’re just not seeing them,” another source said.

Quality of new-crop Australian chickpeas has been outstanding, making them highly marketable on quality specs.

Faba beans

Faba beans have been trading in the past week at around $550-$560/t delivered Adelaide port and $530/t  delivered Melbourne consumer, up around $30-$50/t on mid-November prices.

ABARES last week revised its estimate for current-crop fabas to 484,000t, up from 447,229t seen in September.

South Australia and Victoria grow the vast majority of Australia’s faba beans for export, and both states have had considerable rain on the last quarter or so of their crop to be harvested.

Beans still in the field are unlikely to make export specs, and will go into the domestic stockfeed market as growers with crop left to harvest concentrate their efforts on cereals to minimise their risk of downgrading.

Egyptian demand for fabas is steady, but near-term shipments from Australia are limited as other commodities book out loading slots.

The flow-on effect of India’s removal last week of restrictions until 31 March 2024 on yellow pea imports has added upside globally to the already buoyant market for faba beans and field peas.

Both crops are meeting solid demand from the domestic stockfeed market.

“The feed market is scooping up beans; they were doing that when the price wasn’t high, and it still works for them,” Australian Grain Export pulse trader Will Alexander said.

“There’s demand from Egypt, and exporters are all buying beans.”

Agri-Oz Exports managing director Francois Darcas said faba values have been firming on harvest delays, decent demand, and slow grower selling.

“I think probably 75pc of southern fabas are harvested, and did not suffer too much from the rain,” Mr Darcas said, adding that the balance was at risk of quality damage from the most recent rain event.

“Domestic feed mills are still buying so I suppose they will be happy to buy feed grade at a discount to export prices.”

The rally in faba beans is pricing them out of northern rations, but they are still running at full inclusion at most feedmills in the south for cattle, sheep, poultry and pig rations.

Lentils

Lentil prices have dropped $20-$30/t in the past month to $910-$930/t delivered port.

“It’s trading sideways now,” Mr Alexander said.

The bulk of Australia’s lentils were harvested prior to recent rain events, with quality generally good.

“SA was all done before the rain.”

ABARES last week lifted its estimate for the current lentil crop to 1.39 million tonnes (Mt) from 1.23Mt previously, and less than one third is believed to have been sold by growers.

India is accounting for around 60pc of Australia’s exports, and this percentage is expected to lift as currency issues beset other South Asian destinations.

Canada is also exporting lentils, but Mr Alexander said Australian product stacks up into India on price.

“We’re still cheaper than Canadian.”

“Export demand has been India; it’s a bit slow at the moment, but that doesn’t mean prices are going to drop.”

A slowdown in Australian grower selling after the rain has taken supply-side pressure off the delivered packer and port markets,

“Growers have sold what they want for now.”

This has coincided with a breather in import bookings from Indian traders who are waiting to see how lentil planting in the domestic rabi crop fares.

One trader said a market was now developing for Australia’s No. 2 lentils with weather damage at around $50/t less than No. 1 grade.

“One way for those to go is blending for bulk market, or for splitting.”

“India is the only market.”

Mungbeans

Nominal prices for new-crop mungbeans are up $25/t from last month to $1275/t for processing-grade product, which is in strong demand from China and other destinations.

Recent rain has buoyed production prospects for new-crop mungbeans now being planted across southern Qld and northern NSW.

Approved mungbean seed is available in NSW and Qld for the new-crop plant now under way. Photo: PB Agrifood

Australian Mungbean Association president James Hunt said enough registered seed was available for 120,000ha, and possibly as much as 150,000ha.

Based on Australia’s average mungbean yield of roughly 1.25t/ha, hopes are high that new crop will well exceed the five-year average of 90,000t.

At around 55,000t, Australia’s mungbean crop harvested this year was very small because of flooding at the start of the season and dry conditions at the end.

“The market’s pretty good…but there’s not a huge amount of business done because not a lot has been planted so far,” Mr Hunt said.

“Seed sales are pretty good, and that indicates more will be going in.”

“Planting in NSW is under way, the Darling Downs is more likely to get going on the next rain, and Central Qld is in no-man’s land.

“They’ve had some good rain, but are at risk of having a poor crop if they plant mungbeans now and have them flowering in the hottest part of the year.

“They’ll wait until next month before they think about planting.”

 

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