VANCOUVER — Pent up demand and poor growing conditions should result in a tight green lentil market this year, say analysts.
Marlene Boersch, managing partner with Mercantile Consulting Venture, said some demand went unfilled last year due to severe quality problems with the Canadian crop.
“We have a little bit of catch-up demand for Canadian greens,” she told delegates attending Pulses 2017.
There is also potential for green lentils to be substituted for Indian pigeon peas this year. Planting of the pigeon pea crop is nine percent behind last year’s pace. Farmers are not enamored with the Indian government’s support program for pigeon peas.
On the supply side, acreage is down 24 percent in Canada and while lentils thrive under dry conditions it has been too hot and dry this year.
Acres are up nine percent in the U.S. but 91 percent of the lentils are grown in North Dakota and Montana where there has been severe drought.
Boersch said 56 percent of the lentil crop in Montana was rated poor to very poor as of July 9. There is no rating for lentils in North Dakota but she said it is in better shape than Montana’s crop.
“We actually have a fairly tight green lentil balance sheet.”
Sportelli Pierfrancesco, a trader with Columbia Grain Inc. in Montana, estimates that this year’s crop will average 17 to 18 bushels per acre, down from the average of about 25 bushels.
He said the increased acres won’t be enough to offset the poor yields.
Pierfrancesco forecasts 290,000 tonnes of U.S. Richlea type lentils, 66,000 tonnes of Estons and about 17,500 tonnes of Lairds.
U.S. carryout will be tight at about 50,000 tonnes.
Greg Simpson, president of Simpson Seeds, said the green lentil growing areas of Saskatchewan have received 50 to 75 milli-metres of rain so far compared to 200 mm for a typical growing season.
Fortunately, there was good subsoil moisture from last year when the lentil crop got about 600 mm of rain or three times the normal amount.
“Surprisingly the lentils are holding on,” he said.
What is a concern is the extreme heat with many days exceeding 30 C. That can reduce yields as the plants reduce secondary branching and focus on the main stem.
A side-effect of that is that it tends to produce plump seeds, so there should be plenty of large caliber green lentils this year.
Simpson said the extreme heat “super accelerates” the rate of maturity. He expects some of the early seeded lentils will be ready to harvest in two weeks.
He anticipates Canadian green lentils to trade around $1,000 per tonne. But that could change in a hurry if what is expected to be a good quality crop takes a turn for the worse due to harvest rains.
“If we do get that scenario, then look out, the prices can move up at least another $100 per tonne from where they are today,” he said.
Boersch warned buyers that lentil acres could be down considerably next year due to strong wheat and oilseed prices.
Farmers who have struggled with disease issues will take lentils out of their rotations in favour of cereal crops.