Tight supply may give chickpea prices more room to grow

Chickpea prices topped $0.65 per pound in 2017. By comparison, posted rates last week were around $0.50. | File photo

The chickpea bull run likely has a little more runway, says an analyst.

"It looks to me like there is still more upside possibly but maybe not up to those record levels that we had a few years ago," said Chuck Penner, analyst with LeftField Commodity Research.

Prices topped 65 cents per pound in 2017. By comparison, posted rates last week were around 50 cents.

Even prices at today's levels have only happened 18 percent of the time in the past 10 years.

Brian Hildebrand, a grower from southern Alberta, said he's waiting for further price increases.

He noted that chickpea prices are in the 82nd percentile of the last 10 years while competing crops like durum and flax are in the 95th percentile.

That is why Hildebrand thinks there is more room for prices to rise and he plans to hold onto his supplies a little longer.

Statistics Canada estimates farmers produced 63,000 tonnes of chickpeas. Penner said that is likely pretty accurate. He thinks it is somewhere in the 60,000 to 80,000 tonne range.

Most people in the chickpea trade believe Statistics Canada's total supply for the 2020-21 crop of 500,000 tonnes is too high. Penner thinks it is closer to 450,000 tonnes.

That would leave 150,000 tonnes of carryout and a total supply of around 225,000 tonnes for 2021-22, or half of last year's levels.

Production was down about one-third in the United States as well, leaving a total supply of 300,000 tonnes in that market, down from 450,000 tonnes the previous year.

Domestic use is expected to remain at about 185,000 tonnes in the U.S., while exports will dramatically fall.

Canada is the largest supplier of chickpeas to the U.S., so it will need to look elsewhere for product to bolster supplies.

India had a poor crop of kabuli chickpeas of about 250,000 tonnes. Exports are expected to plummet to 100,000 tonnes from 150,000 tonnes in 2020-21.

Production is up in Russia by 10 to 15 percent, which means it will likely export more than last year's 300,000 tonnes but not enough to make up for the shortfall in North America and India.

Argentina had another drop in production, so it won't be much help.

Penner forecasts a maximum of 110,000 to 120,000 tonnes of Canadian exports.

The U.S. is expected to be the most aggressive bidder for that product with Pakistan and the Middle East losing out.

Canada's ending stocks will be negligible.

Colin Young, manager of Mid-West Grain Ltd., said 20 percent of Canada's production is nine millimetre size, with the remaining being eight millimetre.

He noted that 50,000 tonnes of Canada's limited supplies will be used as planting seed for next year.

That places a lot of emphasis on carryover from the past couple of years.

Ali Siddiqui, trade director with the Northern Chickpea Alliance, said international buyers are balking at the current price point of Canadian product.

He wonders how a buyer from Pakistan can pay $1,300 per tonne for Canadian lentils that are selling for $980 per tonne in that market.

Young said there were plenty of purchases made at sub-$1,000 levels before the recent run-up in prices. He believes buyers will pony up when it comes time to restock because they realize Canadian growers have the will and the wherewithal to hold out.

He believes the U.S. will be a major buyer of Canadian chickpeas because importing product from a market like Russia is proving cost prohibitive due to sky-high freight rates. The freight is adding $300 per tonne to Russian chickpeas.

Contact sean.pratt@producer.com

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