Posted in Agronomy alert on Feb 11, 2016

The Australian pulse crop has sold fast, supplying the very strong demand from the Indian sub-continent.

Pulse market wrap for 2015 season

by Cindy Benjamin

2015 was a year of stark contrasts for the Australian pulse industry. While growers in the northern growing region experienced an excellent season and achieved record production levels, severe hot dry conditions in spring heavily impacted pulses, along with cereals and oilseed crops, grown in the southern regions.

High prices for all pulses compared to currently deflated prices for wheat, barley and canola had encouraged growers in all regions to plant a larger area to pulses in 2015. According to Pulse Australia estimates, a record area of 614,000 ha of desi chickpea was sown in 2015 compared to the previous record sown area of 564,000 ha in 2012. This increased area, along with favourable growing conditions, led to above average production and Australian growers achieving record production levels for desi chickpea.

Nick Poutney, Grain Corp head trader for pulses, says the Australian chickpea crop has sold fast with maybe as much as 90% of the crop exported within the first three months following harvest. This has generated a record export program with 465 thousand tonnes being exported from Australia in November alone, double the previous record amount that was exported in November 2012. Although figures are not yet available, Mr Poutney expects the export tonnage for December to also be strong.

The consequence of this is that there will be very limited supply available from Australia for the remainder of 2016.

“Two consecutive poor monsoon seasons in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has created a massive import requirement in the region, which has in part driven increased interest in pulse production in Australia,” he says.

“The majority of desi chickpea producers will likely further increase their sown area in 2016. There is however a limit to the area of suitable land available and due to high disease risk it is not possible for growers to plant chickpea in fields where chickpea has grown within the past four years. Sowing will also depend on widespread late summer rainfall across the traditional growing regions.”

With chickpea price expected to remain about three times as high as wheat for the coming season, it is very likely that all growers who are able will plant chickpea on as much of their land as is practical. A 10–20% increase in sown area is forecast, which could see the Australian industry break through the 1 million tonne production ceiling.

Kabuli chickpea production in 2015 was less than 50,000 tonnes due to the very dry conditions in the Wimmera and Mallee districts of Victoria particularly, where some crops were not harvested. Overall yields were down for the second year in a row across the southern Australia growing region however the positive outlook for pulses is expected to encourage growers to plant an increased area in 2016.

Lentil production in Australia all occurs in the regions affected with severe weather conditions, including extensive fires that destroyed large tracts of farming land, including standing pulse crops and stored grain, and cost the Pinery and Mallala community three lives.

Pulse Australia industry development manager Mary Raynes estimates a total production figure of 250,000 tonnes for 2015, which is slightly up on 2014 production total despite the sown area being almost 20% larger than 2014. “Strong pricing for lentils drove the increased area and this is likely to happen again in 2016,” she says. “Production in parts of South Australia, particularly the Yorke Peninsula, was outstanding in 2015 with yields of 1.3–2.5 t/ha offsetting the devastating yields in parts of Victoria. In all areas the quality of lentil grain produced was excellent.”

Strong demand continues for the large red lentil PBA Jumbo 2 and medium red lentil PBA Flash. Record high market prices have encouraged growers to market their lentil crop early and to warehouse their cereals. There is normally a short delay after harvest while growers clean their lentil grain to achieve the optimal graded product, however the whole Australian crop will soon be exported with little to no lentil available through 2016.

Mr Poutney says Australian growers are also aware that Canada has planted a large area to lentil and provided average growing conditions prevail their crop is expected to produce approximately 3 million tonnes of grain, more than half a million more tonnes than the previous year, in August/September.

Australian traders expect this increased supply to taper the upward price trend however prices are expected to remain strong and Australian growers are expected to respond with another increase in sown area in 2016. Growing conditions will again be the determining factor for yield.

Field pea competes with lentil for cropping area in southern Australia growing areas and it is expected that growers will favour lentil production in 2016. Like lentil, field pea production in Australia was heavily impacted by the dry weather through the growing season. 2015 production of 213,00 tonnes was well down on 2014 production.

India currently sources the vast majority of the required supply of field pea from Canada, however plant breeders in Australia have released new varieties of white and green/blue pea that are well accepted by Indian buyers and it is expected that production of these varieties will slowly increase in Australia in coming years. These types generally attract a significant premium for growers above the price for Canadian yellow pea, providing a viable alternative for Australian farmers.

Mr Poutney says Grain Corp is working closely with seed commercialiser, SeedNet, to develop and promote these new varieties that provide a whiter, rounder and sweeter pea product for consumers in India.

Mungbean remains a very small crop in Australia however it is gaining acceptance as a serious contender for summer crop production in the northern grain growing regions.

Managing director of Blue Ribbon Group, Stephen Donnelly says that the mungbean industry in Australia is experiencing exceptional growth with strong demand for the new varieties grown here that meet the exacting requirements of buyers in India, South-East Asia and China. “There is plenty of room for expansion for most pulses and in Queensland mungbeans are an important part of that expansion as a summer crop to add to the choices growers have for a diverse and profitable rotation,” he says.

Over 90 per cent of the mungbean grain produced in Australia is exported to markets in South-East Asia, India, North America and Europe and is appreciated for its premium quality. India imported approximately 36,000 tonnes from the 100,000 tonne production in 2014/15 and a similar volume is expected to be traded from the current cropping season (2015/16).

Pulse Australia chairman, Peter Wilson, couldn’t be happier with the outlook for chickpeas at the end of the 2015 season.

Mr Wilson says pulses are competing well for planting area and that the market could well support another increase in yield and area in Australia. “I believe there is room in the market for one million plus tonnes per year out from our industry,” he says. “This year the desi production almost reached this target, even in what was a hard finish for some.”

“Pulses are such an efficient source of protein, requiring minimal processing before they are eaten and drawing all of their nitrogen requirement from the atmosphere,” says Mr Wilson. “The role these crops play in sustainable production and human health and well-being are the focal point of the 2016 International Year of Pulses campaign in Australia and around the world.”

For more information: Pulse Australia crop forecasts

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