Weak export demand has many farmers in Australia holding out for better prices, though overall production remains essentially unchanged.

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With the bulk of Australia’s pulse harvest winding down, growers across the country are reporting an excellent crop in a year of decreased acreage for most crops.

According to Pulse Australia, Southern Australia will produce “one of their best performing pulse crops in the last few years.” Meanwhile, growers in Western Australia are expecting “an exceptionally kind finish” and some of the best faba bean yields in ten years thanks to mild weather and above average rainfall in September.

The main exceptions to what’s been an otherwise abundant crop have been Queensland and New South Wales, where near drought conditions in October constricted the production of faba beans. Frosts have also been reported in southern New South Wales and Victoria, resulting in decreased yield potential for desi chickpeas and field peas. That being said, Ian Mallon, a trader with Mallon Commodity Brokering, says the decreased production in the north shouldn’t change the game significantly.

“The faba bean crop up here in the north is quite small because they had such a dry season, but overall that should be offset by a bit larger crop in the south. We’ve seen little bits of frost damage here and there, but overall you’d say it’s been a fairly smooth growing season for pulse crops in Australia,” he said.

In general, demand from Australia’s top pulse buyer, Southeast Asia, has been sluggish, encouraging growers to hold on to their chickpeas and lentils. The Middle Eastern faba bean market, meanwhile, remains steady and on par with last year’s levels.

Here’s a closer look at the current situation among the major pulse groups in the Australian market.

All prices are in AUD.

Chickpeas

Overall chickpea production dropped around 84,420 MT this year, with Pulse Australia reporting an estimated total volume of 628,980 MT as of November 27. The desi chickpea variety saw the biggest change, decreasing from 635,400 MT in 2012 to 535,780 MT in 2013. Kabuli chickpeas, meanwhile, saw an increase in production, from 78,000 MT to 93,200 MT. Pulse Australia’s Alan Meldrum noted that chickpea acreage was down 64,000 hectares this year, though the area sown to kabuli chickpea was up 26 percent on the 2012 planting.

Chickpea yields and quality are reportedly solid, though Meldrum says Northern New South Wales and Queensland have experienced below average yields with the best at around 1.2 MT/ha. In Western Australia chickpea yields have been above average at 1.2 to 1.6 MT/ha, with the Meckering area reporting yields of 2 MT/ha. Pulse Australia’s Mary Raynes says this “bodes well” for increased chickpea planting in 2014. High yields are also being reported in South Australia and Victoria. No major disease issues have been reported for Australian chickpea crops.

As with other pulse crops, the chickpea export market has been depressed, resulting in low prices to farmers. This situation is encouraging growers to hold on to what they have until demand from Southeast Asia improves.

“Farmers have just sold what they had to sell to relieve the storage for cash flow purposes and have retained everything else on their farm or in bulk storages, so there’s a lot of chickpeas to be sold in Australia,” said Mallon.

Raynes says desi chickpea prices are hovering around $360-380/MT, while kabuli prices are around $400/MT for the Gensis090 variety and $550/MT for the larger Alamz variety.

Lentils

According to Raynes, lentil production, especially red type, is booming this year, and acreage increased by 34 percent to 246,000 hectares. Pulse Australia reported an estimated production volume of 240,650 MT for red and green lentils as of November 27, compared to 220,500 MT in October of 2012. This trend is expected to continue into next year.

“Global lentil stocks, which have had suppressed prices for the last three years, are finally cleared. Australia exported 350,000 MT in 2013 and Canada has exported more than its entire 2012 crop. This left their stocks at about 25 percent of the stockpile from 2010, with Australia’s stocks essentially empty,” reported Pulse Australia.

Lentil yields have been average to strong throughout Australia. Raynes reported yields of between 0.8 MT/ha to 1.5 MT/ha in the Mallee regions of South Australia and Victoria, while growers in the Yorke Peninsula have seen high yields between 1.85 MT/ha to 2.35 MT/ha. Meanwhile, lentils in the Wimmera region of Victoria suffered a bit due to frost, with red lentils yielding anywhere from 1.0 MT/ha to 2.6 MT/ha, though average yields were around 1.5 MT/ha. No quality issues have been reported other than crops affected by frost and “very slight” ascochyta blight.

Prices for Australian lentils, whose main markets are India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, have been somewhat depressed though not as low as that of chickpeas.

“The Australia lentil market is always consistent, however the price does fluctuate like the surf,” says Raynes. “Red lentil prices for the 2013-14 season have rallied since their relative low price last season, and currently growers are being paid $500-575/MT. Over the last decade prices have soared to $1000/MT and dropped to $400/MT.”

“Demand for lentils is fairly soft and you could see prices in that market come down $40 to $50/MT. If that happens it will be the same situation as chickpeas, that farmers will only sell what they chose for storage and hold on to the rest,” said Mallon.

Field Peas

Production of field peas, which are primarily grown in South Australia, has been estimated at 362,900 MT, up a bit from last year’s volume of 319,680 MT. Meldrum says, like chickpeas and faba beans, field pea acreage is down this year, an estimated 33,000 ha lower than in 2012.

Field pea yields in the Esperance region of Western Australia have been above average, at around to 2.3 MT/ha. “Kaspa type” field peas grown in South Australia and parts of Victoria yielded from 1.02 MT/ha to 1.75 MT/ha, while field pea crops in the Wimmera area reported lower yields of between 0.8 MT/ha and 1.8 MT/ha due to intermittent rainfall. Field peas in South Australia were similar, varying from 0.7 to 1.75 MT/ha.

Most field peas are sold domestically for human consumption or stock food, with the main export markets being Southern India and Malaysia. So far Australia has not been able to break into the Chinese pea market, which is dominated by Canadian yellow peas used in vermicelli noodle production. Prices have been more favorable than some of the other pulse crops but not high enough to woo most farmers.

“The prices that have been bid to the farmers related to exports have not really been attracting much interest at all,” says Mallon. “These equate to around $300-320 for a metric ton delivered into the port facility. That’s $50 to $100 below what farmers have seen for a long time, so they won’t be rushing to sell peas at those sorts of levels. I’m trading peas for stock feed, not in big volumes but at $40-50 a metric ton above export values at the moment,” says Mallon.

Faba and Broad Beans

According to Pulse Australia, this year’s faba and broad bean production is estimated at 315,800 MT and 49,500 MT respectively, which is roughly on par with last year’s figures (329,900 MT and 49,500 MT). Overall faba bean acreage was down a bit this year, with 152,100 ha of faba beans and 26,000 ha of broad beans sowed.

In general, faba bean yields have been comparable to recent years, though growers in Central and New South Wales had a bout with frost that did hurt yields. In the Griffith area of New South Wales, farmers reported faba bean yields of between 2.2 MT/ha to 4.0 MT/ha, which was similar to reports out of Victoria’s Kerang region that were anywhere from 2.0 MT/ha to 3.55 MT/ha. In the low rainfall Malee region of South Australia and Victoria, yields were reportedly 1.0 MT/ha to1.52 MT/ha.

“Faba beans have looked healthy and vibrant all season,” says Raynes. “However, depending on the area, some crops have struggled to convert to yields greater than 1.43 MT/ha as a result of the cool but dry September and October months. Faba beans grown in the medium to higher rainfall region of Wimmera escaped frost damage and are yielding number one quality anywhere from 1.80 MT/ha to 4.43 MT/ha.”

A few isolated cases of of Pea Seed borne Mosaic Virus (PSbMV) on faba beans being received in areas of South Australia and Victoria have been observed.

Despite uncertainty and violence in the Middle East, demand for Australian faba beans in the region, a key export destination, has remained decent, with export volume hovering around 230,000 MT. Still, Raynes says prices have dipped $50-75/MT from 2012-13.

“Some growers were able to lock in fixed prices for their beans at $370/MT mid-season and now prices in New South Wales have dropped to $320/MT. South Australian port prices for Adelaide and Wallaroo are varying between $350 and $375/MT. Victorian faba bean price continues to hover around $360/MT up country around Rupanyup to $375/MT at the port of Geelong or Melbourne,” Raynes says.

“Tight numbers at the moment but on the strength of what I’m told there’s good product coming out of Europe and those sorts of places,” says Mallon.

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Charlie Higgins, IFT Journalist

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