Chickpeas offer big bounty

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Jenne BrammerCountryman
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Farmers who planted chickpeas this year will reap exceptional grain prices, but plantings have been restricted because of a Statewide seed shortage.

Alan Meldrum, formerly of Pulse Australia, estimates about 4000ha of chickpeas have been planted in WA, predominantly from Mingenew to Mullewa, though there have been smaller plantings scattered around Dalwallinu, Corrigin, and near Tammin.

Mr Meldrum said there was an appetite for a lot more chickpeas to be planted this year, with prices previously trading at more than $1000 a tonne.

However, it was really only the regular growers who had some seed available for their own purposes, he said.

Mr Meldrum expects the seed shortage will be rectified in 2017, and there should be a substantially bigger crop in 2017.

He said growers should be sourcing seed now for the 2017 season.

Prices, however, are set to soften.

“India has had two dry monsoon seasons leading to reduced pulse production and increased imports,” he said.

“This current monsoon is close to normal or better, so pulse demand will decline somewhat.

“To what level is unknown but $700 is a good guess.”

Meanwhile, the National Australia Bank Agribusiness Commodity in Focus report is forecasting chickpeas to be below $700 a tonne by the September quarter of 2017.

“Although the price will soften from current levels, chickpeas are still expected to remain a profitable crop. At $700 tonne, chickpeas will out return wheat easily and plantings should increase regardless in WA,” Mr Meldrum said.

He said chickpeas generally yielded about 1.8t/ha in a good year.

The Thomas family, of Mingenew, planted 80ha of Neelam chickpeas this year, and would have planted more if they had the available seed.

Murray Thomas, who farms with wife Annette and parents Ian and Jill, said they didn’t plant chickpeas last year because of the poor season around Mingenew, meaning they had reduced seed on hand for 2016.

“At around $1000 tonne, the price last year was phenomenal,” he said.

Although the price has fallen back somewhat to around $800-$850 tonne, and is expected to fall further, Mr Thomas expects attractive pricing will remain.

Meanwhile, Mr Meldrum warned WA growers to be on the lookout for Ascochyta in their chickpeas after the discovery of a new strain in NSW.

He said this disease wiped out the chickpea industry in 1999, but a resistant variety had since been bred.

Although the new strain is unlikely to reach WA in the immediate future, Mr Meldrum said growers should be on the lookout.

Ascochyta appears as sprinkled pepper on the leaves, he said.

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