It may be a bit early to call the entire lentil crop a disaster, but it’s certainly going to be a disaster for a lot of growers.
With the crop reaching maturity, frequent rains are threatening serious quality downgrades, even on fields that were looking good.
To understand why it’s been such an ugly year to grow lentils, you need to look no further than the agroclimate maps published by Agriculture Canada. A big chunk of southwestern and west-central Saskatchewan has received record high precipitation from April 1 to Aug. 1. A large area around that chunk is described as “extremely high” in percentile terms.
The map actually underestimates the deluge in this prime lentil growing region because significant precipitation didn’t start until May and heavy rains that fell during the first week of August are not yet captured in the data.
Sky high price prospects prompted growers in many non-traditional areas to give lentils a try, but the biggest problems are in the heart of lentil country among growers who have a lot of experience.
In many cases, half the farm is seeded to lentils. In some instances, producers rolled the dice and seeded the entire farm. And it’s probably safe to say more money was invested than ever before in an effort to grow a good crop, particularly with fungicide applications.
Remarkably, there are some good looking lentil crops in the heavy rainfall region, but there are many others that are complete write-offs because of flooding and root rot.
Most are somewhere between the two extremes, which makes for interesting crop tours because lentils seem to be in every second field.
Beyond disease and flooding, this has to be the weediest crop in history. In some cases, wild mustard is the dominate weed and other times it’s narrow leaved hawksbeard. However, kochia is the biggest culprit. Some fields are so thick with the Christmas trees that desiccation will be difficult and combining a nightmare.
Weed scientists say most of the kochia population is Group 2 resistant, which is the main chemistry used for broadleaf weed control. On top of that, all the rain probably reduced the effectiveness of pre-emergent Edge, which may have been used for kochia.
A year like this shows the need for further advancements in lentil weed control.
The full extent of the lentil disaster will gradually become clearer if it finally dries up in the weeks ahead to let combines roll. Expect yields all over the map and quality that’s well below average.
If it keeps raining, No. 1 and 2 product could be limited. It will be interesting to see if the marketplace can find a home for large quantities of lower grades.
Expect large payouts from the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp.
Many fields will not see a combine. Many others will have pitiful production. The only silver lining for growers is that crop insurance coverage is strong with an insured price set at 35 cents per pound for red lentils and 41 cents a lb. for large greens.
Expect acreage to contract next year, no matter how strong the price signals are for 2017. Hopefully it won’t be another year of torrential rain, but weed issues and crop rotation considerations will limit the lentil love affair. On top of that, good quality seed could be expensive and in short supply.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.