Unpredictable lentil crops could unsettle market

Laird lentils. (PulseCanada.com)

CNS Canada — Lentil producers have been stuck on a roller coaster this season, and the ride isn’t slowing down going into harvest.

“It’s been a very hard year to predict because we have record amounts of acres planted, an incredible start to the season, and then of course the well-publicized weather problems leading to areas that were drowned out… it was kind of across the board,” said Colin Young of Midwest Investments at Moose Jaw, Sask.

Green lentils are about 70 per cent harvested, while the red lentils harvest is just starting, Young said, adding he’s heard of yields ranging anywhere from five to 35 bushels per acre.

“Farmers will have a little bit of everything: he’ll have a field that will run 35 (bushels per acre) and be good, he’ll have fields that were hit by hail and will run eight bushels to the acre and are low quality,” Young said.

The first green lentils to come off were surprisingly good, he said; however, as time goes on, the quality of the crop left to be harvested starts to decrease.

Disease pressure was also extremely high this year, with lentils and chickpeas alike fighting multiple diseases at once, Young said.

“Small green lentils sat in areas that tended to run quite well; the predominant quality was No. 2… Laird lentils are generally running fairly poor.”

The market, which typically takes the majority of No. 1 lentils, will be in for an adjustment as very few No. 1’s are available due to the weather, Young said.

“My feeling is that the market is tight on green lentil supplies, and they have too many No. 2 Estons… we’re tight on stocks but we’re long in the one market class in a grade that at this point, the market doesn’t want to pay premium for.”

With so many different factors weighing on the market, Young said he questions whether it will spiral out of control.

“India, which did take a large volume of green lentils last year, is not going to look to import lentils due to strong pigeon pea crops and low prices,” he said.

“So take our smaller production combined with reducing export demand, factor in the U.S.’s strong production of good quality… Today the market’s firm, but for farmers who pulled off average yields less than 20 bushels per acre… they are waiting for markets to go up while buyers hope the prices come down.”

Despite having success in some areas, Young said overall, this season has been a disappointment.

“The crops started out so good and the market was so high… to watch it deteriorate from July 1 until now, it’s been a really bitter harvest.”

— Erin DeBooy writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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