Top Crop Manager

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Grow your chickpea marketing plan

Marketing and production go hand-in-hand for top chickpea returns.

November 26, 2007  By Top Crop Manager

Key indicators point to a positive future for Canadian chickpeas. India by
itself is adding millions of new chickpea consumers every year. Its food-buying
power is surging too, and governments around the world are actively promoting
the benefits of the healthful legumes.

Yet the best grounds for optimism may be here in western Canada. This news,
says Marlene Boersch, signals that the last echo from Canada's boom-and-bust
chickpea explosion five years ago is finally fading away.

"The word I use for what we're seeing now is 'disciplined'," says
Boersch, managing partner with Winnipeg based Mercantile Consulting Venture.
"Today, Canada's chickpea sector is all about opting for disciplined growth
as the best way to become a full member of the global chickpea market. It makes
me very optimistic."

Table 1. Common uses of chickpeas in India.
Variety Preferred quality characteristics Common use(s)
Canadian kabuli Cream or white colour. Large and uniform size. Good
taste and cooks quickly.
Direct food use.
Canadian desi High recovery rate (for dhal). Light brown or yellowish
colour. Large and uniform size. Thin seed coat. Low moisture content.
High recovery rate.
Split chickpea for making dhal. Direct food use. Flour
Others: Mosambi, Kantewala, Annigeri, Green Gram, Gulabi.
Source: Mercantile Consulting Venture, June 2006.

Discipline is the key for individual producers too, Boersch adds. She believes
that a disciplined approach to understanding chickpea markets will sustain healthy
grower returns, provided it is backed up with an equally disciplined approach
to consistent, year over year production of good quality crops.

That means controlling ascochyta and other diseases. "Disease control
is the key link between marketing and production," agrees Mark Shillingford,
fungicides marketing manager for BASF, which operates five research sites across
western Canada and has expanded its chickpea research and agronomic program
to support what it sees as the crop's exciting potential.

"The word 'discipline' is the right one for all of us in the sector,"
Shillingford says. "Research has resulted in development of tools that
growers need to keep on top of the ascochyta threat, but it takes discipline,
planning and commitment to succeed."

Start in-field
Chickpeas demand disease management. Effective four year rotation planning is
a must to prevent stand losses from a complex of soil diseases, especially in
kabuli crops.

Botrytis grey mould needs watching as well, and Shillingford recommends a scouting
program that starts prior to flowering (around the six to eight node stage).
Grey mould cuts yields and also impacts quality with shrunken, discoloured seed.

Ascochyta blight in chickpeas is among the most aggressive crop diseases in
the country, with the power to completely destroy a crop. It is also a disease
with several management considerations. Varieties vary in their sensitivity,
although none are immune. Ascochyta is affected by weather too, with rainfall
blamed for spreading the spores.

Even so, ascochyta is a manageable disease, Shillingford says. "The results
we've seen in our research plots are proving out on-farm," he says. "Growers
are proving that with a timely start, and by using a fungicide like Headline
in a rotation that also includes an effective alternate mode of action product
like Lance (which also controls botrytis grey mould in addition to ascochyta),
they can greatly reduce their overall production risks."

Market discipline
Together with taking action against production risks, growers can improve returns
by bolstering their marketing plans, Boersch says. Whether growing kabuli or
desi types, she recommends starting with four key steps:

  1. Assessing market fundamentals.
  2. Studying contract terms.
  3. Considering seasonal marketing.
  4. Keeping an eye on the longer-term.

Assessing market fundamentals
Without a commodity exchange-type market, Boersch says it takes more effort
to track chickpea pricing. That does not make it impossible, though. By starting
mid-winter with global supply, demand, and carryout numbers, growers can build
a price outlook.

At the same time, it is important to build a marketing plan on the knowledge
that Canada is a price-taker, not a price-maker. Watch production in the markets
that matter most. World production is seven to nine million tonnes annually,
yet 70 percent of that occurs in India. Only about 10 percent of the global
crop is traded internationally: Turkey, Australia and Mexico represent a combined
75 percent of that trade.

Nevertheless, Canada has important niches for kabuli type chickpeas. There
are desi opportunities too, especially at critical times in the sales year.

Multi-year rotation planning, rigorous scouting, combined with timely
fungicide treatment are among the keys to production of a quality chickpea

"Begin talking to buyers in the off-season. They're your best information
source," Boersch advises. "Understanding the outlook for market fundamentals
will help you compare chickpeas against other cropping opportunities so you
can calculate your most strategic acreage mix."

Studying contract terms
Canada's chickpea sector is made up of individual buyers. Their contract terms
can and do vary, Boersch points out. In Saskatchewan, for example, there are
approximately 30 registered processors and 14 active exporters for kabuli chickpeas,
and 32 processors and 13 exporters for desi chickpeas.

Pricing terms are crucial, but Boersch recommends growers also scrutinize contracts
for such factors as grade discounts, the pricing of different sizes, and delivery
points and periods.

Also remember that it is a two-way street. Demonstrating knowledge of up-to-date
production practices and disease control can make a grower more attractive for
buyers who are looking for a dependable supplier.

Considering seasonal marketing
Canada has an edge since it is the world's northernmost chickpea producer. India,
for example, harvests its chickpeas in March and April, so its best market supply
is in June and July. Turkey's supply comes onto export markets starting in August,
while Australia's crop does not hit until December.

That leaves a gap that Canada can exploit, creating attractive pricing opportunities
for Canadian chickpeas ready for export starting in November. Says Boersch,
"Splitting sales across the year can help reduce risks while at the same
time keeping growers in the market for later pricing gains."

Keeping an eye on the longer-term
With its population leaping 16 million a year, and with its red hot economy
posting 10 percent annual growth rates, Boersch sees India driving a long-term
market opportunity, especially for desi-type chickpeas.

A long list of other countries, including Spain and the US, are important kabuli
importers with an outlook for expanded consumption. "Disciplined growth
will provide sustainable opportunities for Canadian chickpeas," Boersch
says. "Our growers are high quality and I believe they have the opportunity
to make chickpeas a profitable part of their operations."

Research will continue to help make it possible, says BASF's Shillingford.
"The feeling I get from growers, retailers and our own team is the commitment
to using research to produce better chickpea crops has never been stronger.
That's an attitude that inspires confidence."


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