Chickpeas a bright spot on prairie pulse front

The bleak outlook for other pulse crops means production could double from the 135,000 to 165,000 acre crops of recent years

WINNIPEG — Western Canadian farmers may be set to plant fewer lentil and pea acres this spring, but chickpeas are looking to be one pulse crop that stands out.

“Acres are definitely going to increase significantly,” said Colin Young of Midwest Grain in Moose Jaw, Sask.

He expected to see a doubling in area from the 135,000 to 165,000 acre chickpea crops planted in recent years.

Seed supplies won’t be an issue to reach that 300,000 acre mark because the hot and dry growing season in 2017 resulted in exceptional seed with high germination and no trace of disease.

“Given the availability of seed and given the bleak outlook for other pulse crops, chickpeas look to be a good alternative,” said Young.

While pea and lentil prices declined over the past few months following the introduction of Indian tariffs, the chickpea market has stayed relatively strong. Young said the crop also fares better in the drier conditions that are persisting in the major chickpea growing regions of Saskatchewan.

However, while area may double, chickpeas are still a small crop overall in the bigger picture. Young didn’t expect to see too many new growers. Instead, he thinks producers who have grown the crop in the past are reintroducing them to rotations.

Production contracts were going for more than 40 cents per pound earlier in the winter but are now in the mid to high 30s, said Young.

Russia, the United States, Argentina, Turkey, India, and other growing regions have all responded to the relatively favourable prices with increased acres. With chickpeas “an island of stability in the pulse world,” Young expected the increased seeded area worldwide would eventually weigh on prices.

“Chickpeas are volatile and difficult to grow everywhere,” said Young, noting that crop failures are always possible wherever the crop is grown.

The smaller calibre beans have the most completion, and lower prices, with nine millimetre and up seeing a premium.

Traditional buyers for Canadian chickpeas include the Indian sub-continent, North Africa and the Middle East. In addition, there’s a growing North American demand for chickpeas as a food ingredient.

The U.S. pet food industry has also created a market for the lower quality smaller seeds in recent years.

“We went from feeding hog barns at five to six cents a pound to pet food products, at a grower level, at 17 to 30 cents a pound,” said Young, noting that the downside for chickpeas is being mitigated by the U.S. pet food market.

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