Australian farmers have hit out at a new 30 per cent tariff introduced by the Indian Government on imported chickpeas and lentils, describing it as a “gut-wrenching” end to the season after battles with mice, frost and severe dry conditions during the year.
The move is a blow to Australian farmers because the crops are big earners, with the total value of all Australian chickpea exports in 2016-17 about $1.92 billion. Australian chickpea exports to India in 2016-17 were valued at more than $1.1 billion, while lentil exports were valued at almost $200 million.
Farmers also expressed frustration that the move by India went in the opposite direction to steps taken around the world to reduce trade barriers between nations.
In response to the new trade barrier, Australian farmers could have no choice but to grow less of the “premium” crops.
David Jochinke, president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said a “drop in price was the primary concern”, as well as a drop in demand for the Australian products.
Asked how farmers felt about the new Indian tariff, Mr Jochinke said: “They’re absolutely gutted that this is going to be the case. They’re really hoping that the federal government can try to get a concession for Australian growers, or try to assist the Indian government to allow our imports to proceed without having the tariff.”
Mr Jochinke said Australia was a very large exporter of chickpeas and lentils, most of which went to the sub-continent.
Australia’s chickpea industry had grown strongly over the past decade, he said.
“We are asking the government to use the relationship its got with India to try to get a better deal for Australian farmers. Because in many regions (of Australia), chickpeas are the premium crops that people grow,” he said.
The crops are significant ones in Victoria, particularly in the fertile Wimmera district. In northern New South Wales, around Narrabri and Moree, chickpeas are a major crop.
“Because these are such important crops to us and so widely grown, farmers are looking for this to be resolved as quickly as possible,” Mr Jochinke said.
The tariff blow is something of a double-whammy to many growers, coming after a difficult year in which some battled severe dry conditions, frosts and mice problems. Some Victorian farmers lost so much crop to mice they had to re-sow entire paddocks, while some NSW crops were so dry they were not harvested.
For many growers, the crops are grown on a substantial scale. Mr Jochinke, who farms in the Wimmera, grew about 600 hectares of lentils and about 150 hectares of chickpeas.
“We got hit by frost as well, we lost about 70 per cent of our chickpeas to frost and about half of our lentils to frost. So we’ve been hit quite hard as far as production goes. And to have this come on top really does take the shine right off the season for them,” he said.
Derek Schoen, president of the New South Wales Farmers Association, said the Indian market was a “lucrative market” for Australian growers.
“It’s disappointing to see that India is moving to a more protectionist type policy setting. And it’s not just on pulses, it seems to be across the board that they are heading this way,” he said.
“The rest of the world seems to be moving to a more and more free trade type environment. And it’s not as though there is an enormous domestic production (in India), so it’s also going to force prices up in India as well,” he said.
Mr Schoen said the Indian market had strengthened in recent years, giving farmers more optimism to plant bigger crops.
“To sort of have the rug pulled from underneath them like this, it’s very unfortunate because people had geared up to higher production of chickpeas and lentils,” he said.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) show that chickpea exports in 2016-17 were estimated at $1.92 billion.
But the forecasts for 2017-18 – released well before the tariff decision was revealed – are for a 32 per cent decline in the value of chickpea exports, to $1.31 billion. The volume of chickpea exports to India are projected to drop 27 per cent in 2017-18.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.