Live Export 9: Lupin in all the wrong places

Grain | 15th May 2024 | By Andrew Whitelaw

Live Sheep Export Special Edition

This article is part of a series focusing on the live sheep export trade and the recent decision by the Australian Government to phase out the trade by May 2028.

Lupins are the most important pulse crop in Western Australia, and the live sheep export phaseout may impact this commodity.

A large percentage of the lupins produced in Western Australia are destined for the domestic market for the sheep industry. This is especially the case during dry years when pasture becomes limited, such as this year.

The live sheep export phaseout may cause a reduction in the Western Australian sheep flock, resulting in less domestic demand.

In the chart above, the relationship between the sheep flock and the lupin area is quite distinct. As the sheep flock reduced in size, the lupin area dropped.

This is in contrast to the wider cropping environment, which has seen cropping areas increase dramatically as the sheep flock has declined.

We expect at a reduction in the sheep flock, without an alternative market will reduce to less local demand.

In the chart below, the exports of lupins and production is displayed. There are years when lupin exports are strong and other years when they diminish. This will largely be dependent upon local seasonal conditions.

2022 was a very strong production and export year, but coincided with good pasture in WA, reducing the need for local consumption. Other years, such as 2019, have seen limited exports.

If the sheep flock significantly reduces in Western Australia, then lupins have a number of choices:

  • Continue to invest in human lupin consumption.
  • Increase the feedlot capacity in Western Australia, creating more domestic demand.
  • Increase investment in finding overseas markets.
  • Reduce lupin acreage further.

Removing lupins is not great for agriculture, as it has some benefits. The main one is nitrogen fixation. As legumes, lupins host nitrogen-fixing bacteria, enriching the soil with nitrogen and reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

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