Australian pulse producers must listen to the consumer to ensure that the size and quality of the pulses they grow are aligned with market requirements.
That’s according to Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded Nuffield Scholar Lachie Seears who has been investigating processing supply chains and value-adding potential for the Australian pulse industry.
A grower of broad and faba beans on his family’s mixed farming property at Conmurra in South Australia’s Lower South-East, Mr Seears says most pulses are bought on a visual basis; “so it is imperative to make sure what we do in the paddock doesn’t cut access to markets”.
Speaking at a GRDC grains research Update, Mr Seears said that after growing beans for many years he had a “thirst” to know what happened to these pulses once they left the farm gate.
“After asking a number of farmers for some insight it became evident to me that so many farmers didn’t have a good understanding of what is required to turn the pulse that is grown on-farm into a consumable product that is eaten all over the world,” said Mr Seears.
“This led me to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship, and in 2013 I was awarded a scholarship sponsored by the GRDC.”
During his personal study travels, Mr Seears visited the Middle East where pulses are a staple in the diet of most people.
“I gained a good understanding about what drives consumption and what qualities Middle Eastern processors and consumers are looking for.
“In Turkey, one of my key findings was how important the country is for a distribution hub and a conduit for European crops to enter the Middle Eastern markets.”
Mr Seears said an important part of understanding the processing supply chain was to look at what competitors were doing to ensure a point of differentiation in the market.
“The two other major competitors to supply beans to the Middle East are France and the UK. Although these countries are closer (14 days freight) to the consumer when compared to the Australian product (28 days via sea freight), they aren’t able to match the quality of the Australian beans.
“Emerging competitors in the world pulse market are the Eastern European countries such as Russia and the Ukraine. Currently, the quality of these products is also inferior to the Australian pulse but we must not become complacent and must continually listen to those Middle Eastern consumers.”
Mr Seears, who is a GRDC Regional Cropping Solutions Network member, providing advice and support to the GRDC Southern Regional Panel, also travelled to Canada to look at its pulse industry, in particular the growing, processing and marketing of lentils.
While in Canada, he inspected successful vertically-integrated operations which enable growers to add value to their pulse production.
“However, due to the high investment required to vertically integrate and do your own processing here in Australia, it might make more sense for our growers to put their energy into developing good relationships with processors “to deliver what they both need”.
“It needs to be a win-win scenario for both the grower and the processor for it to be successful,” Mr Seears said.
Since undertaking his studies, Mr Seears has concluded that Australian growers need to be in pulse production for the long-term.
“Shifting in and out of pulses will lead to variable overall production and make it more difficult to secure markets.”
For more information about Mr Seears’ endeavours, see the latest edition of GRDC’s Ground Cover magazine. More on the Nuffield Scholarship program can be found at www.nuffield.com.au.
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Caption: GRDC-funded Nuffield Scholar Lachie Seears (right) of Conmurra in SA caught up with Brian and Davina Stacy of Wickliffe, Victoria, at a GRDC Update in Streatham, Victoria.