IFT taps into its international network of sources to offer readers a general survey of the major black-eyed pea exporting nations.

By Dario Bard

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Those in the dry bean business know how difficult it is to ascertain reliable information on the global trade in any one particular bean class. This is especially true for minor classes like black-eyed peas. Because they are not exported in as large quantities as the major classes (such as black, navy and pinto beans) they are more readily diluted in official statistics that tend to lump all beans together under one generic category.

Yet it is precisely because smaller volumes of minor bean classes are being traded that a disruption in production at any one origin can result in wild price swings. Such was the case in 2014, when residual rains from Hurricane Odile impacted upwards of 70% of the black-eyed pea crop in Texas; within a week, U.S. black-eyed pea prices increased US$ 10 per cwt.

IFT has observed repeated instances of this phenomena with other specialty crops in addition to black-eyed peas. For this reason, we believe that class-specific reporting may be of considerable value to our subscribers. Therefore, we decided to make the most of our worldwide network of bean industry contacts in an attempt to fill the information gaps. This global overview of the black-eyed pea trade is our first effort in that endeavor. The information herein is based on interviews with industry members in the top five black-eyed pea exporting nations, presented in order of average annual export volume.

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Myanmar

Statistics provided by IFT in-country consultant Daphne Khin Swe Aye indicate that over the past three years, Myanmar’s annual black-eyed pea exports have averaged about 30,600 MT. That makes Myanmar the world’s top black-eyed pea exporter.

Last year, however, exports fell to 14,607 MT. Aye attributes this decrease in exports largely to a decrease in yields due to the use of an obsolete seed variety. Myanmar growers, says Aye, are still using a California black-eyed pea variety that was first introduced to the country in 2003; consequently, today’s yields are 50% of what they once were.  

In Myanmar, black-eyed peas are grown in the regions of Ayeyarwady, Sagaing and Bago during the country’s cold season. The crop is typically planted in October and harvested from January to February. Production fluctuates as growers are prone to switch from one pulse crop to another depending on which promises the best return on investment.

Although there is domestic consumption of the closely related brown-eyed pea, Myanmar’s black-eyed pea crop is produced almost exclusively for export. The top markets for Myanmar’s black-eyed peas are India, Korea and Pakistan. Exports usually begin shipping out in February and March.

Myanmar offers its international buyers both a hand-picked special quality product (HPSO), mostly destined for the European market, and a lower quality product for price-sensitive markets like India. In February, the average export price for new crop HPSO stood at US$ 1,200 per MT. Aye expects prices to increase on tighter supplies. In order for Myanmar to safeguard its standing as the world’s top black-eyed pea exporter, Aye emphasizes that it is vital for the country’s pulse industry to acquire a new, modern California seed variety.

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Madagascar

In recent years, Madagascar has emerged as a major player in the global black-eyed pea trade. Today, Naynesh Malde Kara of SAS Malde Kara estimates the country exports between 18,000 MT and 20,000 MT of black-eyed peas a year. Last year, the top buyers were Turkey, Dubai, India and Europe, but Malde Kara says the list changes from marketing year to marketing year.

Most of Madagascar’s black-eyed pea production is exported, with only about 10% to 15% of the crop going to domestic consumption. The crop is normally planted from March to April and harvested from July to September, with the new crop entering the market as early as July.

Asked about the size of the 2015 crop, Malde Kara says it is difficult to know in the absence of official figures, but he estimates the harvest came in at about 25,000 MT. He was reticent, however, when it came to forecasting 2016’s crop volume, noting only that planting would just be getting underway in March.

Should Myanmar have another modest harvest, Madagascar is well positioned to become the world’s number one black-eyed pea exporter in 2016.

Peru

Madagascar’s rise as a major black-eyed pea exporter was in part fueled by Peru’s decline. To hear Gonzalo Isasi of Aplex Trading SAC tell it, five years ago Peru’s average black-eyed pea crop ranged from 20,000 MT to 30,000 MT. With minimal domestic consumption, practically the entire crop was destined for export. In the past three years, however, Peru’s production fell to 5,000 MT to 6,000 MT. Isasi attributes this decline to several factors, including competition from alternate crops and insufficient rainfall.

“We have several growing areas, but the main one is in northern Peru,” says Isasi. “In that region, the low-lying areas are irrigated, but the highlands are rain-fed. In order for us to hit production levels of 20,000 MT to 25,000 MT, it is absolutely vital that it rain in the highlands. For the past three years, though, we haven’t had any rain during the rainy season. Not even this year, when we expected El Niño would bring the drought to an end.”

The persistence of drought, now in its fourth year, could be signaling a sea change for Peru. According to Isasi, the weather pattern in the past alternated between wet and dry from year to year. Consequently, black-eyed pea production tended to fluctuate from 30,000 MT during a wet year to 20,000 MT during a dry year. Never before, he says, has there been such a prolonged dry spell.  

“I am starting to think this is the new normal,” he says.

Should the rains return to the highlands in the future, however, Peru’s black-eyed pea production could return to 25,000 MT levels, Isasi states. If that were to happen, the resulting glut in the global trade would drive prices down, lower production costs and allow Peruvian exporters to offer their customers better prices. Under such a scenario, Isasi believes Peru would be able to recapture some of the markets it has lost to Madagascar. Peruvian black-eyed peas are of better quality, says Isasi, and command a premium.

Right now, the difference between Peruvian black-eyed pea prices and Madagascar black-eyed pea prices is about US$ 200 to US$ 300. If Peruvian exporters can close that gap to US$ 50 or US$ 100, Isasi believes buyers will prefer the Peruvian product. He suggests US$ 1,000 per MT FOB could be the sweet spot. At that price level, Madagascar would have to reduce its pricing to US$ 750 per MT FOB to compete.

That scenario will not play out this year, however. Peru plants two black-eyed pea crops a year. The main crop is planted from January to February, and harvested from April to May. A secondary crop is then planted from August to September and harvested from November to December. With the main crop already in the ground for 2016, Isasi says Peru is looking at another 5,000 MT year.

In terms of old crop carryover, there is none heading into 2016 informs Isasi. Prices currently stand around US$ 1,300 per MT FOB. At harvest, Isasi sees prices dipping slightly, down to US$ 1,200 to US 1,250 per MT FOB. Over the course of the year, he sees prices remaining in the range of US$ 1,200 to US$ 1,300 per MT FOB.

As previously mentioned, Peruvian black-eyed peas are prized internationally for their quality, and they therefore command higher prices than black-eyed peas from most other origins. The top buyers of Peruvian black-eyed peas are England, Italy, the Netherlands, the Mid-East (particularly Dubai) and the Mediterranean (particularly Greece). Lesser volumes are also exported to other European nations and the nations of the Caribbean.  

Belize

Otto Friesen of the Bel-Car Export & Import Company Limited, Belize’s top dry bean exporter, informs IFT that the country’s black-eyed pea production volume has remained fairly consistent over the years at between 2,700 MT and 2,950 MT. With domestic consumption at about 5%, that means Belize exports roughly 2,685 MT of black-eyed peas per year. The top destinations for Belize black-eyed peas are the nations of the Caribbean, the U.S., Europe and the Mid-East.

The usual planting window runs from December to January, with harvest taking place from March to April. New crop sales begin as early as March, and at Bel-Car, product is stored in order to supply Caribbean customers throughout the year.

Last year’s crop was below-average, with just under 2,500 MT harvested. But Friesen estimates the 2016 crop will come in at more than 4,500 MT, which is considerably above average. He attributes this increase to growers shifting to black-eyed peas from kidney beans, of which there was a glut last year. Based on Friesen’s production estimate, Belize’s black-eyed pea export availability would be roughly 4,300 MT this year.

Given the significant increase in expected supply, Friesen does not foresee prices improving in 2016. Rather he hopes they will remain stable at current levels of US$ 995 per MT FOB.  

United States

In the U.S., the black-eyed pea crop is normally planted from April to May, and harvested from September to October. New crop typically enters the market right around November 1st. It is a widespread custom in the southern U.S. to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve for good luck; thus domestic buyers are eager to receive product in November and December in order to get it on supermarket shelves by the holiday shopping season.

Over the past three harvests, the U.S. black-eyed pea crop has averaged nearly 28,500 MT. The vast majority of black-eyed pea production is concentrated in two main growing areas: the Texas Panhandle and California’s San Joaquin Valley area. Texas is the primary growing area. According to Mark Kirsten of Kirsten Company, on a good year, the volume out of Texas can represent as much as 70% of the crop. The question, though, is Texas quality.

“It’s Tornado Alley there,” he points out. “Sometimes they’ll get good weather, but more often than not they’ll get hail, heavy rains and strong winds.”

Production out of California tends to be more consistent, both in terms of volume and quality. Prolonged drought conditions there, however, have led to a decrease in black-eyed pea plantings in recent years.

In terms of the average annual export volume, Kirsten says it is hard to pin down.

“Exports vary widely from year to year,” he explains. “It depends obviously on the strength of the U.S. dollar. One thing we are seeing is that the strong dollar is keeping exports down and buyers are looking at less expensive origins like Peru.”

Last marketing year, the export volume was below average, says Kirsten. He ballparks it at 20,000 cwt (approximately 1,000 MT). He estimates on average the U.S. exports 30,000 cwt (approximately 1,500 MT) of black-eyed peas per year. The top export destinations for U.S. black-eyed peas, listed by volume, are Greater Europe, Australia and Asian countries like Korea. The latter turn to the U.S. when Myanmar’s black-eyed pea supply is low or when quality is an issue.   

Looking ahead at the 2016 crop, Kirsten believes the harvest will be about average, perhaps slightly larger than last year’s. As always, Texas is the wildcard. An increase in plantings there could see prices soften. But even if Texas plants more black-eyed peas, the output will depend on how the weather shapes up.

As for California, Kirsten remarks, “We’ve had good moisture this year, better than the past two or three years. There is a little more water in the reservoirs. We don’t know exactly what the water allocation is going to be, but it should be slightly better. We are still in a drought, though. There will be water restrictions and that could prevent some plantings of black-eyed peas. We’ll know in the next six to eight weeks how many acres will go in. In any event, we are not going to have a huge crop out of California this year.” For now, rainfall drives the market, says Kirsten. If there is more rain, buyers will sit back and wait on the expectation that plantings will increase. On the other hand, if rain is scarce, buyers will likely scramble to get their orders in on the expectation that supplies will be tight come harvest.

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Source: USDA Annual Crop Production Report for 2015.

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist