Grow your chickpea marketing plan

Top Crop Manager
November 26, 2007
By Top Crop Manager
Marketing and production go hand-in-hand for top chickpea returns.
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 (besan).
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 crop.
"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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