Australia’s huge pulse acreage estimates may be overstated

Australian farmers are planting more chickpeas and lentils than they normally do but that doesn’t concern a Canadian grain analyst.

Pulse Australia estimates growers will plant 955,603 acres of desi chickpeas, which would be 34 percent more than the previous five-year average.

It is calling for another 601,692 acres of lentils, a 42 percent increase over the previous five-year average.

Those big numbers will result in more export competition for Canada into India, Bangladesh and other regions of the Indian subcontinent.

Stat Publishing forecasts 769,000 tonnes of Australian chickpea exports, which would be 28 percent more than the previous five-year average and 394,000 tonnes of lentil shipments, a 37 percent increase over the five-year average.

Marlene Boersch, managing partner in Mercantile Consulting Venture, isn’t too concerned.

“Some of the traders there think they’re overstated,” she said of the planting estimates.

They’ve told her the chickpea number could be as much as 200,000 acres lower due to dry conditions.

El Nino could make the difference because it tends to deliver drought to parts of eastern Australia where most pulses are grown.

“It’s a crapshoot, really, as to what the production will be,” said Boersch.

Pulse Australia said El Nino could hurt pulse yields in Queensland, which grows more than half of Australia’s desi chickpeas.

“This will most likely have an adverse effect on crop yields,” it said in its latest forecast.

“Many fields do not have sufficient subsoil moisture to ensure the production of average yields and will be reliant on in-crop rainfall to ensure average production.”

Boersch said it is possible global lentil production could increase as much as 800,000 tonnes in 2015 but the crop is far from being in the bin.

“We’re the biggest producer and I have some concerns about dryness here, so I think it’s still wide open.”

El Nino could curtail pulse production in India, where the government forecast monsoon rains are expected to be 88 percent of the long-term average. That would be classified as a drought.

That is why Boersch anticipates ample demand for new crop, considering carryout from the 2014-15 Canadian pea and lentil crops will be next to nothing.

“Particularly the initial demand into Christmas will be very, very good,” she said.

There should be strong sales directly off the combine, which will support continued high yellow pea and red lentil prices.

G. Chandrashekhar, associate editor of The Hindu Business Line, said old crop prices have reached the point where Indian importers are backing away from pulse purchases.

“India is a price-sensitive market and Indian demand for pulses, like for many commodities, is price elastic,” he wrote in an article for the June edition of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers’ Pulse Market Report.

He said chickpea prices have increased nearly 50 percent in the last month. India imported 4.6 million tonnes of pulses between April 2014 and March 2015.

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