A year ago at this time, it was already becoming clear that 2016 was going to see a huge increase in lentil acreage.
However, there’s no shining star and no obvious winner in the acreage battle as we look forward to 2017 cropping decisions. Canola could come out with a big increase by default.
It’s reasonable to assume that lentil acreage will slip.
Red lentils were 35 cents a pound off the combine last year, and by mid-December the price had skyrocketed to 55 cents.
Attractive new crop lentil contracts were available in the early fall, months ahead of the normal time. Little wonder that more lentil acres than ever before went in the ground.
These days, red lentils are less than 30 cents with little indication of any looming price rise. Lentil buying companies are trying to manage their way through a maze of low quality samples. Any crop contracts for next year are likely months away and may not appear overly attractive when they are finally available.
Mustard contracts were also launched early last fall, and the crop saw a significant acreage increase this spring. This fall, production is up, prices are on the defensive, contracts will likely be delayed and next year’s acreage will likely slip a bit.
This year’s durum crop has major fusarium issues, increasing price prospects for high quality durum. Will that encourage more acreage next year or will producers remember all the problems with disease and cut back on the crop?
The world seems to be awash in wheat and feed grains. Feed barley and oat prices are lacklustre at best. Malting barley is attractive, but the committed long-time growers will get the first crack at new crop production contracts.
With a strong possibility that lentil, durum, wheat, barley and oat acreage will all be down, canola is the most likely crop to take up the slack.
Producers are not impressed by the ever-increasing price of canola seed, but that will be more than offset next year by the decrease in fertilizer prices. Additionally, as more shatter resistant varieties become available, there’s a major move to straight cutting canola, which saves the time and expense of swathing.
Weed control was an issue in many crops this year, particularly in lentil. With its three different herbicide tolerance systems, canola might be viewed as a clean-up crop.
As well, canola doesn’t dominate acreage in the traditional lentil growing region like it does elsewhere, giving it room for an acreage increase.
Tight canola rotations have become the norm In the many other regions where canola already commands most of the acres, and so far most of the disease issues have been manageable.
Canola prices aren’t great, but they’ve shown more strength than many observers expected. As well, the dockage issue with China has been solved for the foreseeable future.
A lot of producers stick with a set rotation and don’t vary their crop mix a great deal from one year to the next. Others adjust cropping plans based on agronomics and relative returns.
It’s a long time until spring and many of the variables could change, but cropping decisions are already being made. None of the crops is attracting attention for runaway price increases. In fact, the general pricing trend is stable to soft.
While it may not come with a great deal of fanfare, watch for canola to quietly pick up acres from a variety of other crops for a variety of reasons.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.