Options expand for CQ chickpeas as harvest nears

Liz Wells, August 28, 2023

SEAWAY and Aurizon team members at the CQ Inland Port at Yamala. Photo: SEAWAY

EXPANDED marketing pathways for Central Queensland growers delivering chickpeas are on offer this season, as Seaway opens a warehousing option for chickpeas going into the container market.

Out of its site at Yamala, east of Emerald, SEAWAY will continue packing containers which have been going by rail to the Port of Brisbane since March, and warehousing is coming on stream in time for the CQ harvest which will start next month.

SEAWAY started the service for multiple traders on 2022-23 crop, and is expecting to be able to store 40,000 tonnes of chickpeas in bunkers this harvest, well up on capacity available last year at the developing site.

Co-located at the CQ Inland Port (CQIP)  is GrainCorp’s Yamala facility, which will be taking in bulk chickpeas, as will GrainCorp’s Capella, Mt McLaren and Moura sites.

SEAWAY Queensland intermodal manager Jamie Kennedy said with shipping rates back to near their pre-COVID levels, containerised chickpeas are once again viable, and the Yamala packing plant offers a new option for CQ growers.

“We’re going to offer warehousing and storage this year; it’s a first for us in CQ,” Mr Kennedy said.

Trains loaded at the CQ Inland Port site with containers packed at SEAWAY also have the option to go to Gladstone, which is being serviced by one shipping line, whereas Brisbane is serviced by multiple lines.

“We’re open to going to Gladstone, and so is Aurizon.”

CQIP is managed by Alan Stent-Smith, and his son Warrick looks after the family’s CQ family farming operation.

“Having warehousing is a bit of a game-changer,” Warrick said.

“Previously, you had to have a contract to deliver on; now you can just deliver on a warehousing agreement.

“It allows the grower to harvest and deliver, and think about selling later.

“We’ve never had the boxed market active up here before; chickpeas have had to go on to the Downs.”

A road trip of at least 500km lies between CQ farms and Downs packers, with time and distance weighing into the equation against the CQ grower.

“At harvest sometimes, you can’t get enough trucks to get them down there.”

Warrick said growers with on-farm storage were still likely to exercise that option, and to look at delivering into the container and bulk market.

That includes GrainCorp sites, and also Sizer & Coggill’s NQ Bulk Storage sites at Townsville and Mt McLaren.

This year, Warrick has gone “wall to wall” with chickpeas, and not for the first time, with around 2000ha planted.

The crop of chickpeas photographed last month is part of the 2000ha crop the Stent-Smith family has planted in CQ this season. Photo: Warrick Stent-Smith

He said the CQ chickpea crop is looking at roughly average yields this year of around 1.6-2t/ha when harvest starts in the coming fortnight.

“We only got one in-crop rain this year, so we’re not going to get 2.2-2.4t/ha like we could have if we got more.”

Chickpeas in CQ, and a small amount harvested in North Qld also, are the first in Australia to be harvested each season, and are prized by customers in South Asia for their bright and light colour.

While early CQ chickpeas have traditionally been exported in bulk out of GrainCorp’s Gladstone or Mackay ports, or out of Brisbane via Downs packers, they can now access the early-shipment containerised slots because of the shorter supply chain.

For that reason, Warrick said what is delivered to SEAWAY at Yamala is unlikely to switch into bulk.

“The container market holds a premium over the bulk market.”

ABARES in June forecast Australian chickpea area at 250,000ha in Queensland and 170,000ha in New South Wales.

The Qld production is expected to be split roughly between CQ and southern Qld, and the national crop is forecast by ABARES at 544,000t, only 3000t more than the 2022-23 crop.

With extremely conditions limiting planting and yield potential in NSW, trade sources say new-crop interest is high in Qld chickpeas.


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