CHICAGO, July 6 (Reuters) – It’s not a good time to be a hummus fan.
Global stocks of chickpeas, the key ingredient, could fall by up to 20% this year, according to data from the Global Pulse Confederation. Weather and war have affected supplies of the protein-rich bean, driving up food prices and causing headaches for food manufacturers. Continue reading
Chickpeas are used in hummus, flour, soups, stews and curries. While they’re growing in popularity in the United States, they’ve long been key to feeding people in India and the Middle East — places that are already struggling to meet the rising cost of food imports.
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Farmers in the United States — the No. 4 exporter of chickpeas — planted fewer chickpeas this year as inclement weather slowed spring sowing and they prioritized more lucrative commodity crops like wheat and corn, government data shows.
Meanwhile, top South Asia and Mediterranean buyers are scrambling to buy up dwindling US inventories as supplies shrink worldwide and the war between Russia and Ukraine — both chickpea producers — exacerbates disruptions to global supply chains.
“When war broke out between Russia and Ukraine, demand boomed,” said Jeff Van Pevenage, chief executive officer of Columbia Grain International, a grain and legume trader and distributor headquartered in Portland, Oregon. “We saw strong demand from China, then calls came from customers in Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
Ukraine has not been able to sow its entire chickpea crop due to the war, removing 50,000 tons normally destined for Europe, said Navneet Singh Chhabra, director of Shree Sheela International, a global chickpea trader and brokerage firm.
Sanctions aimed at cutting off Russia’s access to the global financial system have also hampered purchases of its agricultural products, he said, as some buyers try to avoid payment complications. As a top exporter of chickpeas, Russia typically accounts for about 25% of world trade, he said.
“Russia exports at least 200,000 to 250,000 tons a year. When the war started in February, supplies were completely destroyed,” he said.
Transportation problems have exacerbated supply constraints and contributed to rising prices, particularly in the United States.
Backlogs from ocean-going vessels in the Pacific Northwest have forced some grain traders to ship containers of chickpeas thousands of miles by rail car and take more expensive and circuitous routes to fulfill orders.
Columbia Grain International normally exports some of its chickpeas by sea through the Pacific Northwest. But as West Coast ports became overwhelmed, Columbia Grain began shipping chickpeas to Houston, Texas, by rail last fall in search of available sea transportation options — nearly doubling shipping costs, Van Pevenage said.
When the congested train lines also returned, these chickpeas arrived in port long after ships had left. Continue reading
“We’ve had the product in Houston for eight weeks awaiting an outbound ship,” said Van Pevenage.
Columbia Grain is now considering shipping to Charleston, South Carolina, Van Pevenage said.
North Dakota farmer Kim Saueressig decided last year not to plant chickpeas in his drought-parched fields. Known as a legume or grain legume harvested for its protein-rich seeds, chickpeas are also susceptible to diseases that can require costly fungicides, he said.
“Prices are still pretty good, but it’s a headache to deal with,” Saueressig said.
Tight inventories have helped push US retail prices higher. Chickpeas on US grocery shelves are up 12% year over year, nearly 17% higher than before the pandemic, according to the latest data from NielsenIQ. Hummus prices are up 6.9% since 2019.
Hummus maker Sabra Dipping Company keeps ample supplies “to guard against the unexpected,” Chief Executive Joey Bergstein told Reuters.
The company struggled with production disruptions earlier this year during a plant upgrade in Chesterfield County, Virginia, which saw customers send a spate of complaints on Twitter and Facebook about hummus shortages.
According to trade data and research from Shree Sheela International, global demand is outstripping supply. Turkey imposed an export ban while yields in Mexico shrank due to weather problems.
In Australia, a leading exporter of chickpeas, farmers struggled with flooded fields while sellers struggled to secure container slots on ocean freighters.
Some farmers may transplant, said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at Sydney-based agricultural brokerage IKON Commodities.
“Parts of the planted area are still under water,” said Houe, who noted that Australia exports chickpeas mainly to the top-consuming markets of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
In the United States, farmers planted nearly 5% fewer chickpeas this year, the Department of Agriculture reported.
The US market has already struggled with reduced inventories after last year’s production was reduced by a third due to the devastating drought from North Dakota to Washington state. Total domestic shipments as of June 1 are down 10.5% year-on-year, according to USDA data.
Still, Montana farmer Ryan Bogar is betting the scarcity will pay off for the 1,500 acres of chickpeas his family planted this spring. Chickpeas need less fertilizer than corn, he said, and can sell twice as much as wheat, he said.
Wheat prices hit near a record high in March but have recently fallen to pre-Ukraine war levels as recession fears around the world weigh on commodity markets.
“Wheat will foot the bills. But if you want to buy new equipment or have money for an expansion, you’d better have a few peas in the mix,” Bogar said.
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Reporting by PJ Huffstutter and Christopher Walljasper in Chicago; Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral in Singapore and Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Edited by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis
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