Chickpea exports set to drop    Source: The Land (Fairfax Media) 9th April 2013

            THE Muslim Ramadan festival will be held in July this year and chickpea producers expect a sharp drop in demand in coming months.

The chickpea market is dominated by demand from the Indian sub-continent, where most chickpeas are produced and consumed.

Exports generally spike in the lead-up to the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during daylight hours, and fall in the two months immediately before the festival as imports are delivered with time to spare.

Ramadan starts on July 9, The Australian Financial Review reports.

The two main types of chickpea are desi and kabuli and both command higher prices when the grain is large with an even and light colour.

Chickpeas are not a big part of Australians’ diets, so when demand from overseas wavers, the price becomes volatile and often drops sharply.

“Chickpea is still a relatively niche product in terms of overall Australian agriculture,” Commonwealth Bank of Australia commodities analyst Luke Mathews said.

“Here in Australia we have been in an ongoing swing towards chickpeas over the past five years, based on a direct profitability basis.

“We’ve also seen chickpeas becoming increasingly important as a rotational crop in northern NSW and southern Queensland.”

Chickpeas are often used in Australia as a rotational crop, designed to replace nutrients in the soil after the harvest of another crop.

Wheat sucks nutrients out of the earth while chickpeas replace nitrogen in the soil and help with weed control. Producers often alternate between wheat and chickpeas each year.

Solid chickpea prices of around $500 a tonne have added to the crop’s viability for producers.

Domestic prices are tracked using the Brisbane zone (BNE) for Queensland supply and the Newcastle zone (NCL) for NSW. The NSW price has begun to weaken, heading towards $450 a tonne. Mark Poole, commodity agent for Market Check, expects the Queensland price to follow.

“The BNE track market has sustained the levels it has exhibited over the last month but will surely follow the delivered market as the month continues,” he said.

“Our recommendation would be to either sell into any remaining demand or hold to the last half of 2013 in an effort to capture demand that will re-emerge as a result of low domestic stocks and the Indian wedding season.”

The rabi, or winter, growing season in India also affects Australian prices. India is the world’s largest producer of chickpeas, meaning a disappointing harvest will drive demand for Australian chickpeas. Mr Poole said he expected this year’s rabi harvest to be strong.