Canada’s pulse crops not only weathered the killing frost of the May long weekend, they are thriving, according to one of the country’s largest lentil processors.
Simpson Seeds is headquartered in Moose Jaw, Sask., which was the epicentre of a widespread frost that delivered freezing temperatures right across the prairie region.
The thermometer dipped to -7 C on chief executive officer Greg Simpson’s farm during the early morning hours of May 18.
Temperatures remained below zero for at least six hours but after inspecting some pea and lentil fields the night of May 20, he is confident there was no damage.
“They don’t look like they are impacted or killed by frost,” said Simpson.
His assumption is that if pulse crops survived in the epicentre of the frost event, they should be fine elsewhere throughout the Prairies.
“As a general statement, I think our lentil crop survived and we’re off and running,” he said.
In fact, the warm weather that followed the frost event has been ideal for crop development, with temperatures exceeding 20 C for much of the following week.
“For lentils, dry and warm is perfect. I mean, that’s exactly the environment they thrive in,” said Simpson.
“It’s just perfect for the crop to emerge.”
He believes a number of factors contributed to lentils surviving what could have been a killing frost.
The warm weather leading up to the frost event boosted soil temperatures, providing “a zone of additional warmth” for the seedlings. And then it turned cool a couple of days prior to the frost.
“That helped climatize or harden the crop somewhat in preparation for that cold weather,” said Simpson.
There was also very little wind, which allowed some of the warmth to come out of the ground.
Lentils also have an inbred tolerance to frost. He knows of one U.S. variety that came over from Greece in the 1970s that can withstand -23 C temperatures with no snow cover at the seedling stage of development.
Even if lentil seedlings are destroyed above ground, there is a subsoil node that will allow the plant to regrow, so producers should be wary about reseeding.
The upshot is that Simpson is still anticipating a big crop of lentils to meet what is expected to be strong international demand for the crop.
He believes growers planted 3.75 million acres of the crop, which is well above Statistics Canada’s 3.35 million acre estimate. Simpson said Statistics Canada’s report came out before the spring price rally in lentils.
“When you have a spring guaranteed price for 30 cents a pound, who wouldn’t want to grow lentils?” he said.
“If there was more seed available, we could have planted four million acres, but I don’t think we had the seed available because the phone was ringing off the hook here for planting seed. They just couldn’t find it.”
Simpson said growers who are still interested in planting lentils this year might want to consider Spanish brown lentils, which pay a guaranteed 35 cents per pound for No. 1 grade.
He is forecasting 3.9 million acres of peas, comprising three million acres of yellows and 870,000 acres of greens. That is pretty much in line with Statistics Canada’s 3.83 million acre estimate.