LIMITED export demand for chickpeas and lentils has seen both markets drop in the past month as traders concentrate on executing the tail end of bulk shipments, and problems in the container trade compound.
While mungbeans have traded sideways, faba bean prices have rallied on demand from domestic feedmills.
Trade sources say exporting boxed pulses to South Asia is an ongoing nightmare as shipping lines continue to lift their per-box rates, and empty boxes to pack remain in limited supply.
Coupled with a lack of certainty as to container-shipping schedules, this has impacted chickpea and lentil trade.
Slow turnarounds in transshipment ports — namely Singapore, Kaohsiung in Taiwan, and Port Klang in Malaysia — are holding up the transit times of Australian pulses bound for South Asia.
On new crop, seasonal conditions for chickpeas, faba beans, lentils and lupins are average or better in all areas bar the Mallee, a major lentil area, and Central Queensland (CQ), where Australia’s early season chickpeas are grown.
Table 1: June 2021 Australian Crop Report production estimates for current-crop and new-crop chickpeas and lentils. * Total does not add due to rounding. Source: ABARES
Table 2: June 2021 Australian Crop Report area estimates for current-crop and new-crop chickpeas and lentils. *Total does not add due to rounding. Source: ABARES
Pakistan has bought more than half of Australia’s 2020-21 chickpeas, and Australian traders report their interest has died in recent weeks, and COVID has affected spot demand and logistics at destinations.
Chickpea prices have fallen in the past month to around $650-$670/tonne, down from $700/t seen mid May, while new-crop peas are trading in limited volume at $630/t.
A drop-off in spot demand from Pakistan is largely behind the weakening but traders on both sides of the market expect buying to recommence once it gets through its build-up of imports.
AWAM Group chief executive officer Muhammad Ahmed said 214,080t of Australian chickpeas arrived in Pakistan between November and April, with around 40,000t arriving in June, and the same in July-August combined.
“All this would ensure ample supply to Pakistan until new crop,” Mr Ahmed said.
“We understand there are lots of issue in container loading from Australia, but still we haven’t seen any shortage of product arriving in Pakistan.”
Mr Ahmed said Australia was Pakistan’s only source of desi chickpeas.
“Other origins — Ethiopia, Burma and Tanzania — are currently higher priced and not workable.
“I expect new demand won’t come until the Australian new crop, or until the Australian market falls.”
Wilson International Trade director Peter Wilson said the chickpea market had softened in recent weeks based on a contraction in demand from Pakistan.
“Bangladesh isn’t really that active on chickpeas now.
“They bought a fair bit before Ramadan, and we haven’t seen them re-engage.”
Australian Choice Exports director James Hunt said offshore logistics, coupled with a build-up of stocks in Pakistan, were largely behind the drop in demand and prices.
“There’s so much piled up in transshipment ports, and you can’t get a bid on old crop,” Mr Hunt said.
On the production side, growers in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland are planting the last of their chickpea paddocks in ideal conditions, but subsoil moisture is patchy in Central Queensland and may limit area.
A 10,000t bulk consignment of chickpeas loading in Gladstone, Queensland, by the end of the month is expected to complete Australia’s bulk 2020-21 chickpea exports.
Prices for faba beans have firmed in the past month to around $375/t delivered Wimmera packer, up $25/t from last month, but in minimal volume.
Centre State Exports managing director Jeff Voigt said more fabas were trading into the domestic rather than the export market now.
“Export’s pretty well done and dusted,” Mr Voigt said.
“A lot of bulks have sailed or are setting sail.”
Agri-Oz managing director François Darcas agreed, and said destinations, with Egypt being the major, were well covered, and the trade was busy shipping rather than accumulating.
“The market’s not really trading, other than on domestic demand from some feed millers.”
Higher-rainfall areas of South Australia and Victoria grow the bulk of Australia’s exported faba beans, and have had a good start to the season.
NSW is also expected to produce a good crop this year following ample and early rain to get the crop going.
ABARES does not forecast Australian faba bean area by state, but has estimated the national 2021-22 crop at 469,000t from 279,000ha, compared with the record 510,000t crop grown over 269,000ha in 2020-21.
Current-crop prices for lentils have dropped roughly $60/t in the past month to around $800-$820/t delivered up-country packer in minimal trade, and the new-crop market is yet to develop.
“We’ve had a particularly dry and late start to the season, but in general, seeding is nearing completion given some rain over the past two weeks,” Mr Voigt said.
“The South Australian Mallee is still very much on the dry side, and it’s worse in the Northern Mallee in Victoria.”
Mr Voigt said growers and traders were equally disinterested in selling new-crop lentils this early in the season.
“Indicative prices are historically quite strong, but no-one’s interested in selling anything until until the crop gets established.
“There’s not much going on in the trade at the moment.
“Everyone’s waiting to see if India reduces its tariff.”
Delivered-packer prices for mungbeans have been steady in the past month, with No. 1 grade at $1300/t, processing at $1200/t and manufacturing at $1100/t.
With the Australian mungbean harvest now over, traders are dealing with a limited supply of No. 1 grade following rain on the later-harvested crop.
This has pushed a considerable tonnage into the processing grade, with India and China its main markets, and China buying any No. 1 grade mungbeans still available.
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