MARKETERS foresee continuing strength in mungbean exports on the back of a string of successful years. To capitalise on this strong demand for high-quality product, interested growers are urged to plan now and keep their options open for the coming summer cropping season.
Last year, processing-grade beans fetched from $1100 to $1300/tonne, depending on time of harvest, and it is expected that values will be maintained above $1000/t again for this coming season.
James Hunt of Blue Ribbon Grain and Pulses and Chandru Hiremath from Golden Harvest Grain Exports agree that Australian mungbeans have captured the attention of buyers in Asia and the Indian sub-continent, with particular interest in Australia's large, shiny green mungbean variety Jade-AU.
Several traders are offering very attractive area contracts of well over $1000/t, delivered to local packers.
Mr Hunt says the premium for grain that meets the larger size specification requirement for buyers in China is about $100 a tonne. "There is strong market demand for number one processing and manufacturing grade grain," he said. "While the market in India prefers smaller mungbean, the buyers are still willing to buy the larger Jade-AU beans."
Mr Hiremath says that not only are prices high, they are also stable. "The mungbean industry is flourishing and the demand is constant," he said. "Unlike some other crops, the importing countries are always facing a deficit in their local mungbean production, not just in lower production years. Australia also has an advantage with the quality and type of product that we supply to the market. Buyers can and do buy product from a number of other countries but the Australian product meets a particular and premium market that no other exporting countries currently match."
Landmark senior agronomist Paul McIntosh recommends growers planning to sow mungbean in spring or summer be very cautious or avoid using residual herbicides such as metsulfuron, chlorsulfuron and picloram over winter.
"If growers have applied residual chemistries, the only way to be certain that these products have broken down in time is to do a bio-assay," he said. "To do this, plant a small representative area to mungbean well before the planned sowing date or look for newly-emerged broadleaf weeds as a sign that the residual herbicide has broken down.
"Products with active ingredients such as 2,4-D, MCPA and fluroxypyr can control in-crop weeds without compromising the mungbean planted in the following season.
"If atrazine was applied at high rates last summer, it could still impact next summer's cropping plans. Herbicides with residual action break down over time; however, the time taken depends on factors such as soil pH, soil type, stubble levels, rainfall and the application rate and water volumes. It is well worth checking that it is safe to plant before planting a sensitive, high-value crop like mungbean."
Mr McIntosh suggests growers also test for soil nutrition, particularly for potassium, sulfur, phosphorus and zinc, in the 0-15, 15-30 and 30-70cm zones to give an indication of where in the profile nutrients may limit growth.
"With mungbean being such a short-lived plant it is important not to restrict access to nutrients early in the crop's development. There needs to be good soil moisture, sufficient to form a moist ball in your hand, to a depth of 60cm, and no sub-soil constraints such as sodium or chloride."
AMA president Rob Anderson says current demand is an opportunity that Australian growers can capitalise on to maintain this preferred supplier status.
"Industry development has been proactive over the past 30 years, putting an emphasis on quality assurance, product traceability and supplying customers with a clean and safe food-grade product," he said. "The next phase on our agenda is to grow the area sown to mungbean and to continue to develop more reliable production systems. The current varieties have proven their worth in the field and in the marketplace, making mungbean a serious contender for a permanent place in crop rotations." Herbicide choices in winter cereal crop and fallow paddocks can restrict area available for planting mungbean in the coming summer.
For growers interested in adding mungbean as a regular crop in the rotation, Landmark's Paul McIntosh believes that investing in suitable planting equipment will quickly pay dividends.
"Planting is a key component of successful mungbean production," he said. "A planter that can easily handle the stubble load, plant rows 50-80cm apart and apply the inoculum through water injection will set the crop up for success. The new varieties perform well at narrower spacing, making the most of available moisture and nutrients while still being easy to manage and harvest."
Mr McIntosh sees mungbean as a very viable alternative to other summer crop options, being a quick, low cost and high return crop that leaves the soil in good condition for the following crop.
"Traditionally, most growers have looked at mungbean as an opportunity crop in years where rainfall has allowed a double crop or when rain has come too late to plant cotton or sorghum.
"The current situation makes mungbean a good first option to cash in on stored moisture after a fallow without compromising the next season's winter cropping program."