OFFICIAL figures of a chickpea crop of 1.4 million tonnes this year are under pressure following a harrowing fortnight of heat and frost in the nation’s major chickpea producing regions.
Temperatures soared into the mid 30s in southern Queensland and northern NSW and frosts as low as -6 were also recorded, putting strain on an already moisture-stressed crop.
At present, industry benchmarks are for yields of 1.5 tonnes a hectare in Central Queensland, where conditions have been better, 1.2t/ha in southern Queensland and 1t/ha in NSW where the season is the worst.
Pulse Australia chief executive Nick Goddard said these figures could come under further pressure should the dry persist.
Northern zone manager for Pulse Australia Paul McIntosh said he had seen first-hand the parched conditions in NSW.
“I’ve driven down from Queensland to Wagga Wagga this week and it’s very dry.
“We’re up to nearly the end of August and you can still see a lot of dirt between the rows in chickpea crops.”
He said NSW was faring the worst.
“It is definitely worse on the south of the border.”
He said there would still be significant production in Central Queensland, where crops have made use of moisture stored following torrential rain earlier in the year as a result of Cyclone Debbie.
“It won’t be as good as last year, but the crop is certainly in pretty good nick in CQ, definitely better than places to the south.”
Mr McIntosh said there was a big plant of chickpeas in NSW as growers sought to take advantage of good prices.
“The extra hectare could make up for the lower yields to an extent, but total tonnages will depend on just how low yields are.”
Sanjiv Dubey, director with pulse trader GrainTrend said the industry was still trying to digest the impact of last week’s horror weather.
“By and large the underlying message is that the extent of the damage is still unknown, but it is fair to say it is not looking good, we are getting reports of as much as 30-40pc damage from already low yield estimates.”
“It is very patchy, in some parts it has been fairly widespread, in others the frost damage has been limited to low lying parts of the paddock.”
He said frosts and heat had caused flowers and pods to drop from plants.
“In other years where there is better moisture this is not necessarily a massive problem as the plant will attempt to reproduce again, but when there is no moisture it will not be able to do so.”
“There is little rain in the immediate forecast, meaning time is not on the side of the crops.”
He said even crops in CQ, where there will be reasonable yields, had suffered from a lack of rain.
“That region was in excellent condition at planting, but crops have had to do with virtually no in-crop rainfall.”
In spite of the heat, Mr Dubey said growers were not spraying out chickpeas as yet.
“One agronomist told me of all the crops, growers would hang onto chickpeas the longest because of their ability to cope with dry conditions.”
“They can hold on as long as any crop, but we are coming to the stage where even with this tenaciousness they are struggling.”
Mr Dubey said in NSW crops in eastern areas, such as North Star and Croppa Creek looked better, as did the chickpeas on the Liverpool Plains.
He said the concern had seen new crop chickpea prices go up, although essentially the price was nominal, with little volume traded.
“New crop values are at $850 a tonne delivered to upcountry packers, but growers are not interested in selling due to the production risk and buyers aren’t keen to take on a lot of inventory either.”
The news is better for Australia’s other major high value pulse crop in lentils.
Mr Dubey said seasonal prospects in the major production zones of Victoria and South Australia were looking reasonable, in spite of a poor start in the lentil belt on the Yorke Peninsula.
Further bolstering optimism among lentil producers there are continuing woes with the crop in Australia’s major export competitor Canada, both in the lentil crop and in the yellow pea crop which can be a substitute product for lentils.
“The Canadian crop issues mean there could possibly be some good premiums for quality lentils this year,” Mr Dubey said.