Chickpeas pencil out great, but acres a question

Chickpeas pencil out to be one of the most profitable cropping options in Saskatchewan heading into the spring of 2012, but whether farmers will actually plant the pulse crop remains to be seen.

Crop return comparisons compiled by special crop export/processing company Walker Seeds Ltd. of Tisdale, Sask. place Kabuli chickpeas at the top of the list — at least in those areas where the crop is a rotational option. However, agronomic issues will likely see farmers planting other pulse crops instead.

"I don’t think we’ll see a huge increase in acres," said Jackie Kress, senior grain manager with Walker Seeds.

Those farmers already comfortable growing chickpeas will likely continue to do so, but agronomic difficulties in growing chickpeas compared to other options will limit any new farmers jumping on the crop, she said.

Canadian farmers, primarily in Saskatchewan, grew only 91,000 tonnes of chickpeas in 2011-12, down from 128,000 the previous year due to excessive moisture at seeding time. The tight supplies and a lack of willing sellers were behind the relative strength in chickpea prices, according to Kress.

Spot bids for large-diameter Kabulis can currently be found as high as 47 to 48 cents per pound, delivered to the elevator, according to Prairie Ag Hotwire data. Desi varieties, meanwhile, are topping out at about 27.5 cents per pound.

While the strong prices may not bring more acres to chickpeas, Kress expected a large amount of peas and lentils would be planted this spring. She said farmers were expressing interest in seeding both crops, although she said relatively bearish supply/demand fundamentals for red lentils may limit the acres to that crop.

Planting estimates released by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on Tuesday forecast Canadian chickpea acres rising only slightly in 2012. The market analysis division forecast chickpea area at 136,000 acres in 2012, from 126,000 in 2011.

Pea acreage, meanwhile, is expected to increase to 2.9 million, from 2.3 million, while early indications from the government are for lentil area to decline to 2.2 million, from 2.5 million.

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