Australian chickpeas threaten pulse price

Australian farmers are poised to shatter the country’s chickpea production record, which could put pressure on Canadian yellow pea prices this winter.

High prices and favourable weather encouraged Australian growers to plant 1.2 million acres of desi and 177,346 acres of kabuli chickpeas. That is double the amount of chickpeas that went in the ground in 2011.

Pulse Australia forecasts 849,000 tonnes of production, a whopping 74 percent above the previous record.

Early season weather has been good in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, where the vast majority of the chickpea crop is grown.

“They’ve had good rains at least through the end of July. August right in that pocket has been a little drier but certainly nothing that chickpeas can’t handle,” said Chuck Penner, special crops analyst with LeftField Commodity Research.

But he noted that a similar-sized crop that was planted in 2010 resulted in 379,000 tonnes of production.

“They thought they had a very, very good crop and almost all of it went down the tubes in the last month before it was harvested,” said Penner.

If growers manage to avoid weather and disease perils, almost all of the estimated 760,000 tonnes of desi chickpea production will make its way to India and other south Asian countries in December and January.

That product will compete head-to-head with Canadian yellow peas in India.

“That’s where we could see a bit of a slowdown in demand. It’s not enough to turn around the yellow pea market, just maybe to take the tops off the market,” said Penner.

“It will have an impact, no question about it.”

India’s kharif or summer pulse planting was three percent below normal as of Aug. 31. Penner thinks it will end up five to 10 percent below normal as late crop reports filter in.

Chickpeas are grown in the rabi or winter season. The Australian product will arrive in India around the same time that India’s crop is developing.

Penner said India’s rabi chickpea crop will have a far more profound impact on Canadian yellow pea prices than Australia’s chickpea surplus.

There were many reports that El Nino would make a poor start to India’s monsoon season in June and July, becoming even worse in August and September.

“Turns out the opposite is happening so far,” said Penner.

Good monsoon rain in August helped to make up for poor June rain and is replenishing soil moisture and irrigation reservoirs.

“The rabi crop isn’t going to be as threatened as some people thought earlier. That has taken a little of the panic out of the Indian pulse markets,” said Penner.

But the more immediate threat for Canadian yellow pea producers is the Australian chickpea crop. Pulse Australia said ascochyta blight is present in all regions where the crop is grown but is being contained by fungicide applications and the prevalence of new resistant varieties.

Penner noted that about 10 percent of Australia’s chickpea crop is kabulis. Pulse Australia is forecasting about 90,000 tonnes of production, which would compete with Canadian kabulis in markets around the world.

“If that comes off in good shape it will have a bit of a depressing effect on the (kabuli) market,” he said.

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