WHILE a global shortage of chickpeas is being forecast this year, South Australian Kabuli traders and growers say it is too early to predict whether that will lead to high prices after harvest given the notoriously volatile nature of the marketplace.
Current prices for old-season Kabulis sit at about $1000 a tonne, but drought, flooding and war have the Global Pulse Confederation forecasting a 20 per cent fall in production which could lead to a rise in grower returns.
While it would be extremely rare for Kabuli growers to forward sell, according to Australian Grain Export pulse trader William Alexander, he said new-season prices for the chickpeas had been released at $800/t.
He said the Kabuli price has sat anywhere between $500 and $1500 a tonne in the past four years.
"The volatility makes buying and trading very difficult," Mr Alexander said.
"If I'm buying lots of Kabulis I've got to be willing to sit on them for six months before selling to be profitable. It's a long game, not a week-to-week proposition."
He said there was a good chance prices would rise at some point in coming months due to global supply factors, leaving SA growers - particularly those with storage - to capitalise at or after harvest.
"Kabulis are one of those markets that can be silent for six months then go bananas for three months," Mr Alexander said.
"Because there's various production origins around the world it never really follows any pattern."
A poor crop in Turkey, Canada and the US Midwest last year, flooding in Mexico and uncertainty over whether Russian Kabulis will be available as the invasion of Ukraine continues, are a few factors cited for the impending global shortage.
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Mr Alexander said while he hadn't seen talks of a shortage come to fruition yet, the early signs were there.
He also said Pakistan, who don't harvest their new-season Kabulis until March, had increased their buying of Australian Kabulis this year, while the acreage sown in SA and Vic had decreased this year due to high prices of other commodities.
Global factors that could blunt price rises for SA include the continued Indian tariff of 66 per cent on chickpeas, which would effectively keep that trade door shut, and the Canadian chickpea crop which is due for harvest in September.
According to industry figures in SA, many growers have steered away from Kabulis in recent years in favour of lentils, due to market volatility and greater weed control options in lentils.
Former grower Peter Grocke, Tanunda, said there was an opportunity for a strong Kabuli industry in SA, but investment in specialist delivery, grading and sizing facilities would be needed to help growers value-add and mitigate risk.
Winulta growers Jake and Elden Oster said there were some agronomic aspects that still earned the pulse a place in their rotation, with on-farm storage and patience when selling, the keys to sustained profitability.
"We store them on-farm until we know where the market's going to be," Elden said.
"We've got 1000t of storage that's aerated and we can gas them if we have to. We operate on a 15-month selling cycle."
While lentils have taken a greater share in their rotation, the Osters said Kabulis still offered diversification, good nitrogen build-up, and a different disease break due to having different rhizobia than lentils.
Their secretion of malic acid also makes them unattractive to snails, an advantage on the Yorke Peninsula in particular.
The Osters are growing 90 hectares of Kabulis this season and generally aim for 2.5-3t/ha yields.
Jake said while growers may have drifted away from the chickpeas because of lack of market surety, their on-farm storage helped and they were proud to use them in salads at home.
"That's a good thing about them," he said.
"We don't make our own bread with wheat, we don't make our own beer with barley, but we have our own chickpeas in our salad."
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Koolunga's Ben Heinjus is growing 150ha of Kabulis this season, along with 400ha of lentils. He said kind finishes were required in the Mid North for the Kabulis to reach a marketable size.
"If we had a harsh finish, they would be hard to market and that's where the risk lies," he said.
"The reason we grow them is because they don't shake out in the wind like lentils do. You can't control your weeds in them like you can with IMI-tolerant lentils so you've got to put more chemical on them upfront and grow them in a clean paddock."
Mr Heinjus said this year's Kabulis, like all other crops in the area, were "hanging in there" after a dry six-week spell.
"If we have an average or even slightly below-average year, we'll probably be ahead on last year if the prices hold," he said.
"We aim for that $1000/ha, so that's currently about 1t/ha of lentils, 1t/ha of chickpeas, 2.5t/ha of wheat and 2.5-3t/ha of barley so hopefully we can achieve that."
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