North Star farmer on chickpea recovery

As chickpea farmers begin to recover from a price drop last year, North Star’s Jeff Nixon says he’s surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, and grateful for such a long period of good fortune for Aussie growers.

Chickpea prices crashed at the peak of last year’s harvest after India introduced large import tariffs. They were at record highs in 2016. 

“The prices went from $400 a tonne to $1000 a tonne pretty quickly,” Mr Nixon said. “The income from chick peas in that year – nothing else beat it.”

He was amazed that prices have already begun to recover after the November/December crash. New players in the market, including Bangladesh and Pakistan, have helped.

“It’s still not in the high level, but it’s above the average price for the last 10 years,” he said. He said he sold some chickpeas for over $600 a tonne just weeks ago.

Mr Nixon said the yo-yo effect was the result of India’s monsoon rains failing three years in a row, leading to a shortfall in local crops. Desperate to buy the high protein food that was a staple for the country’s high vegetarian population, the prices were driven up. When the monsoon failed, the Indian government acted to bolster local farmers. 

“I’m surprised it lasted as well as it did. A lot of Australian farmers have done very well over the last few years if they think about it, and we can’t force other countries to do anything they don’t want to do,” he said.

In his years with the crop, Mr Nixon said he’s seen both huge wins and losses.

“We grew the second commercial crop that I know of in Australia in 1982. It was a drought year, it yielded better than the wheat and the price was three times what the wheat was,” he said.

“We got $330 a tonne back in 1982. You could nearly buy a new car for that.”

He felt chickpeas, like many grains were always a gamble, particularly with their tendency towards disease. He said 2016 was simply the year “everything went right”. 

“After 35 years of growing them, there’s no way I can predict what the market’s going to be,” he said.