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Chickpea acres expected to jump this year

This year’s chickpea crop is going to be far bigger than Agriculture Canada is anticipating, says a Saskatchewan processor and exporter of the crop.

Agriculture Canada is forecasting 197,600 acres, up 18 percent from last year’s plantings. It is the only major pulse crop that is expected to see an increase in acreage.

“I feel that acres are going to rise significantly higher than that,” said Colin Young, owner of Midwest Investments, a chickpea cleaning plant in Moose Jaw, Sask.

“I feel that acres are going to more than double.”

He is forecasting more than 300,000 acres of the crop, and 98 percent of that will be kabuli type. Hardly anybody grows desis in Canada anymore because kabuli prices and yields are better.

Lentils performed poorly last year and have a bleak outlook due to a 33 percent import duty imposed by India. Chickpeas, by contrast, performed nicely last year both agronomically and in the market, said Young.

However, prices have been dropping. The 70 cents per pound spot price growers were getting last fall has fallen to 45 to 50 cents. New crop contracts that were 40 to 45 cents a few months ago are now 30 to 35 cents.

That is because growers around the world are expected to ramp up kabuli production in response to last year’s shortfall.

Stat Publishing is forecasting 301,000 tonnes of Mexican production, nearly double last year’s output.

Young said there will also be bigger crops in Argentina, Russia and in particular the United States.

However, he said Canadian growers will be better off than the last time chickpeas entered the lacklustre part of the price cycle.

Many markets pay a premium for nine millimetre or larger chickpeas, and the predominant varieties grown today are Orion and Leader, which tend to produce bigger chickpeas than Frontier.

There is also now a pet food market for lower quality chickpeas, which has established a floor price for the crop that is much higher than selling them to the hog sector in southern Alberta.

Melody Ector, president of Diefenbaker Spice and Pulse in Elbow, Sask., agreed with Young that chickpea acres will be up more than Agriculture Canada is forecasting.

“Farmers are just looking for a different pulse to grow, and the price has been very good on chickpeas and the movement has been good,” she said.

Ector said the world’s supply pipeline for the crop is “basically dry” and the situation is no different in Canada.

“There really isn’t any chickpeas left out there,” she said.

“Basically you cannot find any chickpeas. It’s tough.”

The only supplies around are what farmers will be using for seed in the spring.

Ector said there could be softer prices ahead if farmers around the world get good growing conditions.

Canada ships chickpeas to a lot of countries. The top export market in 2017 was the United States with $43.4 million of sales followed by Pakistan with $33.5 million and Turkey at $28.3 million.

India didn’t crack the top 10, which is why kabulis haven’t been as affected by India’s import duties as peas and lentils.

Young said chickpea demand remains static from year-to-year regardless of price.

He said it is still dry in southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta, where most of the chickpeas are grown, and they thrive in those conditions. There is enough soil moisture for crop germination but crops will need timely rain.

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