Pulse exports on pace for banner year

Commodity experts predict huge volumes of lentils and peas to be shipped as India ramps up for ‘monstrous’ imports

Expect another “monstrous” pulse export program during the first half of 2015-16, say industry analysts.

“It’s going to be huge,” said Chuck Penner, analyst with LeftField Commodity Research.

Exports are on pace with last year’s record-setting program and he doesn’t see any let up for pea or lentil demand in the near future.

“That has kept any seasonal pressure from affecting pea and lentil prices at all,” he said.

Jon Driedger, analyst with FarmLink Marketing Solutions, said there is tremendous buying interest from India.

“We feel confident that we’re going to see big, big volumes of lentils and peas get shipped out in the first few months of this year,” he said.

“How resilient prices have been even once the combines have been rolling is a testament to the buying interest that has been underneath this pulse market.”

The Indian Pulses and Grains Association says private traders have signed contracts for over one million tonnes of pulses for delivery over the next three months, according to an article in the Business Standard.

That includes 400,000 tonnes of chickpeas and caspa peas from Australia and 600,000 tonnes of yellow peas from Canada, Russia and France.

The article states that if that sales pace is sustained, India will import five million tonnes of pulses in 2015-16, up from 3.7 million tonnes in each of the previous two years.

Penner said having one million tonnes of sales on the books by this time is a “monstrous” early season import program but he wonders if there is enough exportable supply of pulses to meet the five million tonne estimate given the disappointing Canadian crop.

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“(Indian importers) are desperately trying to get any kind of peas and lentils they can as soon as possible,” he said.

It may help that Statistics Canada found more peas and lentils in the system.

It estimates there was 429,000 tonnes of pea stocks as of July 31, well above trade estimates of 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes.

Year-ending lentil stocks were estimated at 365,000 tonnes, again well above trade estimates of 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes.

Stocks were much higher than anticipated due to revisions to production numbers and usage estimates from previous years.

“The size of those adjustments isn’t enough to really sway the market,” said Penner.

Prices tell the real story about supply with red lentil bids at 38 cents per pound and large greens fetching 47 cents per pound last week.

“Clearly there is no heaviness of supplies,” he said.

Driedger is highly skeptical of the StatsCan estimates. He believes stocks for both crops are well under 100,000 tonnes.

Saskatchewan farmers had combined 72 percent of their lentils and 85 percent of their peas as of August 31. That facilitates a brisk sales program, said Penner.

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“Peas and lentils get into the system faster than the wheat and the canola, so you have a bit of a window there where you can push a lot of stuff,” he said.

There may also be less competition for rail capacity due to slumping Chinese commodity demand and a slowdown in the Canadian economy.

India’s kharif or summer crop is off to a poor start because monsoon rainfall was 12 percent below normal as of Sept. 3. The pigeon pea crop is in particularly rough shape.

“It looks like it is in real trouble. Acres are down from average and it looks like now the yields will be lower as well,” said Penner.

“What that does is it starts to lift the whole tide of pulse prices in India.”

Green lentils are a substitute for pigeon peas.

How much pulses India imports in the second half of 2015-16 will depend on its winter or rabi crop, which is planted in November and December.

Penner said the disappointing 2015 monsoon doesn’t bode well for soil moisture for rabi production but it is possible that timely rains at seeding could boost the fortunes of the rabi crop.

His advice to growers is to avoid getting too bullish and to sell at least some of their crop at today’s high prices.

“You don’t need to panic but don’t sit on your hands entirely and do nothing.”

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Driedger also advises growers to take advantage of the strong early-season demand and high prices because they could be easing back once the initial orders are filled.