Roger Vickers, Chief Executive of PGRO, comments that perhaps just 20% of the UK pulse harvest remains uncut at the time of writing. The majority of this being beans in North Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland.

The early summer promise was curtailed by the extreme drought and heat of a summer which sapped pea and bean yield potential and had a significant negative impact on bean quality. Bruchid beetle levels have been unprecedentedly high, and the lack of moisture has caused significant variability of grain size within crops, and even pods, with substantial discolouration arising as well.

It is estimated that the average bean crop will be down by up to 25% and that peas might be down 15 to 20% from year-on-year with an average yield of around 2.5t/ha. With a reduction in crop area over 2017 expected, this will potentially put some pressure on supply.

Also, factoring in the summer forage shortage on stock farms and the early consumption of winter rations, there may be an increase in beans retained for on farm use and therefore not available to the trade.

Some uncertainty exists about seed availability for winter beans. The effects of the growing season on seed quality is still to be determined, but yields of good quality seed will have been reduced. Some crops remain to be harvested.

All of this leaves the market in a more heightened level of uncertainty both in terms of supply and demand for the current market and forward pricing for crops in 2019, which look almost certain to rise. What is clear is that demand is currently well supported in all sectors of the UK pulse market.


UK Pulse markets

Franek Smith, President of BEPA, reports that in parts of the country some growers have experienced a near disaster with huge yield variation.  Winter bean yields nationally are reported between 1.5 and 5.0t/ha, with spring bean yields being similar or worse. 

Bruchid beetle damage levels are high - and particularly high in southern county crops. With total harvest lower, it is anticipated that feed bean availability will be approximately the same as last year at approximately 500,000 tonnes, but that human consumption grade will be dramatically reduced.

The feed bean market has been tracking behind the rising feed wheat futures market for several weeks. As harvest progressed and the feed wheat futures fell, beans have become disconnected from those values, and whilst they have lost some shine from their high, they now appear to be in their own market.

Enthusiasm from domestic users is high and there is also interest from feed export buyers although excess bruchid content may also pose problems for feed export shipments. Feed beans are currently trading at between £185 and £200/t ex-farm depending upon location and movement.

Whilst at these levels, on a crude ratio of value to protein content, beans may be a little high in comparison to DDG and soya meal (which is under pressure), beans offer other beneficial feed qualities and are still competitively priced.

For human consumption beans a slow realisation is dawning amongst export buyers that the traditional quality criteria for European beans is unlikely to be met from most sources this season and that they may need to relax their import specifications. Interest has been shown in consignments with as much as 10% bruchid damage. This reflects merchants seeing as much as 95% of samples affected by more than 15% bruchid - the normally accepted quality criteria being below 4-5% infection level. This may present opportunities for those with facilities to process / clean and add value.

Unusually, this year winter beans have produced better visual quality samples and with a generally larger seed size. It is therefore likely that winter beans will make the grade rather than spring beans this year.

At present, the uncertainty around availability is dampening the enthusiasm for booking bulk vessel shipments, making bagged and containerised product a good option. Good quality beans could be commanding up to £30/t premium over feed beans depending upon location.

Most early harvested combining pea crops seen have little bleaching, and whilst those harvested after the rain have more issues. With pea yields down, the good news is that the quality is generally very good. However, there are more than the usual number of samples with soaking issues immediately after harvest.

Potential feed exports for peas are depressed by the international market. Whilst international prices have fallen they are still not sufficiently attractive to importers.

The supply of peas is now tightening and by next harvest there is likely to be a much leaner supply situation, though this may not yet have been fully acknowledged by the processors and supermarkets.

Contracts for blue and marrowfat peas are available for 2019 harvest at significantly improved values to those harvested in 2018 - but will carry the usual caveats around bleaching, waste and stain and cooking qualities.

It is clear, that after two or three testing seasons the market needs to be able to offer a higher value for peas to maintain grower enthusiasm. Whilst it is not yet certain where the open market price will peak, a ceiling will be governed by the availability and supplies from North America looking for a home.

Demand for marrowfat peas is good and open market values for good quality peas are currently up to £265/t ex depending upon location. 

New crop contracts are available for crop 2019 with values at around £300/t ex-farm before any deductions for quality issues. Even at this level, it may prove challenging to meet the market demands in 2019. To secure the best prices growers need to remain focussed on quality with this crop.

Comments for large blue peas can be read much the same as for marrowfats and peas in general.

There is good demand and the supply is likely to become limited. Most have been grown on contracts, but the open market may now exceed £265/t for the best quality and there are few active open market sellers.

New crop 2019 contracts are available based on quality criteria being met and a min/max value of £200- £250/t ex-farm. But it may be that these are revised in the coming weeks if values appreciate.

It is unclear whether the feed market is sufficiently covered at this stage given the early consumption of winter feed rations in the summer.

As previously mentioned in these bulletins, yellow peas are most affected by the Indian trade tariff impositions as yellow/white peas compete in the international market with larger international producers.

The few UK samples seen so far have been good, but there are few if any sellers in the market at present, making them very hard to value. 

International Pulses

Baltic field bean harvest is complete with dramatic yield reductions of between 25-30% reported. It is believed that the Baltic crop may already have been over-traded and that this could present opportunities for exports from the UK.

India has again intervened politically in the pulse market, completely restricting the import of peas through September. This was preceded earlier in the year with a dramatic imposition of 50% duty and will put a further ripple in the pond that is the international supply and demand for peas.

Australian doubt about their bean crop has been expressed in recent weeks due to later frosts delaying development and drought being experienced in the main production areas. The crop production forecast was significantly downgraded by approximately 120,000 tonnes, although there has now been some patchy drought relief. Early month estimates for Australian beans were circa 216,000t. Indications are that they will carry a premium of circa $120/t over UK produce.

Canadian producers of peas were already expecting a 32% drop in exports to India, but may have to revise this upwards given the new restrictions imposed. This can only put downward pressure on prices in other markets.