SOUTH Australian company Australian Grain Export (AGE) is building a pulse cleaning and splitting plant at its Dublin site to sell packaged product to international and domestic wholesalers.
The new plant will enable AGE to process Australian pulses and package them into 25-kilogram bags, creating a niche market for product handled at the Adelaide Plains site in addition to pulses exported in bulk and containers.
AGE director and trader Tyson Hewett said the expanded facility will target demand for customers wanting cleaned and packaged pulses such as field peas, faba beans, lentils and chickpeas.
“When we built Dublin in 2016, we started packing 20-foot containers with loose pulses and we still do that there and feed that demand,” Mr Hewett said.
“But we have a connection with customers who want to market on the other side – bags straight out to the wholesale market.”
He said there were also opportunities for AGE to expand to process pulses into consumer packs ranging in size from 300 grams to 1kg, ideal for supermarket shelves.
“Maybe in the next few years we get to that level, but our initial phase is to supply our international customers who want further processing.”
Win for growers
Mr Hewett said the plant will streamline processes for growers who need cleaning or sorting for out-of-specification pulses.
He said growers with these loads currently have to take the product to another site and have it cleaned before returning to the Dublin facility.
“Now we will be able to capture those loads and clean them straight away.
“This way we share cleaning costs, because we have to clean them anyway and process them.”
Mr Hewett said the Dublin facility will be a “one stop shop” and will result in reduced freight costs for growers who need further cleaning and sorting services.
Streamlined supply chain
By value-adding pulses at the current facility, Mr Hewett said the new plant will also reduce double-handling of bulk or container goods.
He said some export buyers were currently purchasing loose Australian pulses, and taking them to another site to be processed before exporting them to a final location.
With changing regulations and increasing supply chain costs, Mr Hewett said this was becoming difficult for some buyers.
“Some countries are banning exports, so where all these machines once were, they can’t actually re-export them again.
“They have customers further along that need product and that supply chain has been disrupted.
“Hopefully we can fill in a gap where they can get it straight from Australia and save the double-handling.”
Mr Hewett said Australia could not compete with other countries on labour costs, but AGE could offer buyers other benefits, such as better technology, time savings, and overall supply-chain stability.
He said improving supply-chain efficiencies was even more crucial to wholesalers and manufacturers in the current environment where containers were in short supply.
He said bulk has taken over from containers in markets which can accept both.
However, customers limited to container-only imports would need to look for other ways to reduce costs and time blow-outs.
“From our perspective, if we can get that end user, who is prepared or can only take a container, a finalised product ready to sell straight out of that container, then we will be pretty competitive out of our plant.”
Pulse production on rise
Most of the raw product packed at Dublin originates from SA farms with a small portion coming from Victoria and New South Wales.
Mr Hewett said he had seen an increase in SA pulse production, and expected this trend will continue.
“Pulses are a pretty important part of South Australia’s rotation.
“For the past 15 years since pulses got established, they really cemented land values in the pulse-growing areas.
“The plant breeders have done a marvelous job on lentils in particular, getting them to grow on more marginal areas.
“With urea going up through the roof, growing more pulses is just as profitable as our wheat crop was.
“About 25 years ago, you’d grow field peas at a small loss just to grow a good wheat crop.
“Now they are growing a profitable pulse in their rotation.
“The growers like it and will keep growing it, and we will keep growing the market.”
AGE has imported equipment for the new plant from Turkey and is waiting for specially skilled staff to travel from overseas to construct the facility.
Mr Hewett said it is unclear when this will happen, but hopes the plant will be ready by the end of the year.
Alongside the Dublin facility, AGE also owns the Wimmera Grain Company located at Rupanyup in rural Victoria.
SA is Australia’s leading producer of field peas, lentils and faba beans.
ABARES March 2022 crop report estimated SA’s 2021-22 production at: 85,000 tonnes of field peas; 460,000t of lentils; 230,000t of faba beans; 11,000t of chickpeas, and 45,000t of lupins.