PATCHY showers and storms across the Australian grainbelt in recent weeks have delayed the chickpea, faba bean and lentil harvest.
This has buoyed prices for bulk parcels in some port zones as exporters look to fill cargoes wriggling in to the shipping schedule ahead of the main run on wheat vessels.
The upside of rain is that it is setting up ideal conditions for the planting of mungbeans in most parts of northern New South Wales and southern and Central Queensland (CQ).
The ongoing shortage of containers available to pack, and affordable passages for them to get to the Indian sub-continent, continue to limit activity in the container market as new-crop chickpeas in southern Queensland and northern NSW start to become available.
Traders say the bulk of action in the chickpea market is currently in CQ, where harvest is largely over and quality has been high.
Three exporters have booked in total more than 130,000 tonnes of bulk chickpeas to load between November 1 and January 30 at CQ ports, and are acquiring chickpeas from as far afield as Condamine on the Western Downs to fill the holds.
Trade sources have said the Darling Downs and northern NSW container market for chickpeas is unusually quiet, and is bid at around $560 per tonne for No. 1 grade, compared with $510-$520/t quoted last month.
Bids to CQ growers for on-farm chickpeas are also at around $560/t, which equates to $600/t delivered Gladstone.
Pakistan has been the major buyer of containerised chickpeas this year, but is thought to have adequate supplies on hand for now and therefore has limited interest in booking boxes in the near term.
This matches the lack of volume coming from a late and rain-delayed harvest on the Eastern Downs and northern NSW.
In the week to 0900 today, most chickpea-growing regions in NSW and southern Queensland have had rain, and totals have varied widely.
Registrations include: Gunnedah 24mm; Krui Plains 98mm; Moree 56mm; Narrabri 52mm; Walgett 24mm.
This is on top of rain which fell in the previous week in some areas, and will encourage another round of flowering in some later crops to delay harvest even further.
The faba bean harvest is close to complete for most growers in Queensland, and some in northern NSW, but rain has slowed harvest progress and crop maturation across most of south-east Australia.
With two Egypt-bound cargoes of faba beans booked to load in Port Adelaide by mid-December, trade is buying old-crop and early new-crop beans at prices above what Victorian packers are paying.
Indicative prices are $430/t in the Adelaide track market, $10/t above Melbourne, while Wimmera packers are bidding $400-$410/t.
Some new-crop fabas are being boxed at northern NSW sites and exported through Sydney’s Port Botany, but volume is small.
Traders report that chickpeas and faba beans are generally being stored on farm in northern NSW and southern Queensland as growers look to cash in on the buoyant market for good-quality wheat and barley straight off the header.
Despite India’s lowered tariff, the market is booking fewer cargoes than expected, and markets including Egypt and Sri Lanka have tonnage coming their way ex Port Adelaide in coming weeks.
Bids into the port are at just above $900/t, down about $50/t from mid-October.
“The market’s very firm into Adelaide in the track system, but it’s not being replicated in the container market,” ETG southern pulses trader Todd Krahe said.
“The biggest trouble we’re having there is the lack of forward rates coming from the shipping lines.”
These rates have traditionally been published many weeks ahead of the shipping slot, but are now being released little more than a fortnight out from sailing dates.
The firming freight market has made it difficult for container packers to calculate a firm bid to show to growers, and has made bulk business out of Geelong, Port Adelaide and Portland, possibly in combination cargoes, look like the best option for coming months.
In Victoria, Wimmera packers are bidding at around $880-$890/t, up roughly $40/t in the past fortnight to reflect weather concerns, but below levels of four weeks ago.
“Go back two or three weeks and growers were very keen to lock in prices just to secure somewhere to take them straight off the header.
“Now I don’t think it would matter what you offered; growers aren’t’ going to forward sell until they’ve harvested them.”
Most packers have carryover to tide them over until new-crop starts flooding in to their sites.
However, with harvest already 10-14 days later than normal because of the mild spring to date, more rain could create some shorts that need filling.
Canada’s drought-reduced lentil crop has created stronger-than-normal interest in Australian lentils from nations west of the Indian sub-continent.
“India’s very quiet, even with the reduced tariff, and we’re seeing more demand out of places like Turkey, which generally has a bigger local crop, as well as Egypt and UAE.”
Mr Krahe said the lentil harvest in the northern Wimmera was at least one week away, and more like two weeks if anything more than a shower or two falls on the weekend.
However, growers in parts of the Mallee, and parts of South Australia, have started on their lentil harvest.
“It’s cold for this time of year, and more rain is on the forecast from Friday onwards.”
Lentil yields in SA and Victoria and generally seen as average to above average, and later crops will benefit from further rain.
However, lentils on the point of harvest could swell and shrink, causing wrinkled skin which could require the opening of a No. 2 grade segregation.
While recent rain has generated some quality concerns for the winter-crop harvest now under way, summer crops including mungbeans are ready to be planted in a full subsoil moisture profile once the main planting window opens after Christmas.
Deacon Seeds Mark Schmidt said this, coupled with relatively stable pricing, good seed availability and improved agronomic understanding, should see the area planted this summer equal that of last summer.
“It’s a good 15 years since we’ve seen prices go below $1000/t and…I do think manufacturing will be above $1000/t in the upcoming season,” Mr Schmidt said.
“We’ll probably see a similar area, but yields will be a lot higher because of the full moisture profile in a lot of areas.
“If you start with a full profile, that’s the 101 of growing mungbeans.”
Given the wet start, Mr Schmidt said inoculation of seed was particularly important for the upcoming season.
“Some people will be tempted to plant now, but traditionally our best crops are planted late December through to mid-February.
“We’ve got a little bit of old-crop left to ship, and we’re getting some really good signals out of China and Vietnam that they’re interested in new-crop.”
Container freight rates and booking slots into both markets is much more attractive than what is on offer for the Indian sub-continent market.
“There’s plenty of space into Vietnam and China.”
The Australian Mungbean Association is running its mungbean agronomy course for growers, agronomists and members, in North Queensland this week, with the two-day event under way at Ayr.
The course in the Darling Downs region will be held in Toowoomba over November 30 and December 1, while the Central Queensland course will be conducted in Emerald on 7 and 8 December.
Those interested in attending can click here to access further information and booking links.
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