Lentil crop quality a concern

Red lentils. (Pulse Canada photo)

CNS Canada — Top-end Canadian lentils may be hard to find this year, as wet weather and the late harvest are expected to lead to quality downgrades.

The lentil harvest in Saskatchewan, where the bulk of Canada’s crop is grown, is only about 23 per cent complete, according to the latest weekly report from Saskatchewan Agriculture.

The lentil harvest would normally be over half done at this time of year, said Darren Lemieux of Simpson Seeds in Moose Jaw.

With so little harvested, he said, it’s hard to generalize on overall crop quality, but early samples were showing bleaching and wrinkling, while nearby forecasts were not looking favourable.

“The more it rains (on the lentil crop) the more it swells and shrinks when it dries down, which causes more wrinkles and brittleness,” he said. The wide range of maturity, due to a prolonged seeding window, was also raising concerns over possible frost damage to those late crops.

The average first frost in the lentil growing regions is around the second week of September. “There are some pretty green crops out there, and if we get a frost event in the next 10 days it could have a major effect,” said Lemieux.

International buyers are watching the situation closely, and “are all concerned about the quality of the Canadian crop,” he said.

That uncertainty over quality is already translating into improved prices for both green and red lentils, especially for higher-quality supplies.

“It may be an overreaction, or it may be justified, but it’s where we see the market today.”

Spot bids for No. 1 large green lentils are currently topping out at 27 cents per pound, with No. 2s at 23 cents and No. 3s at 16 to 18 cents, according to the latest Prairie Ag Hotwire data. No. 2 or better red lentils can fetch as high as 28 to 29 cents, with No. 3s discounted by as much as 10 cents.

Statistics Canada is estimating the country’s 2014 lentil crop at 1.93 million tonnes, up from 1.88 million grown in 2013.

Of that total, farmers were expected to have grown more red lentils and less green lentils on the year, given the better pricing opportunities for red varieties at seeding time.

— Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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