Pulse surplus likely to lower U.S. acreage

Large crops followed by poor export demand has led to burdensome supplies and cut into pulse prices in the United States, which should cut into acreage for peas, lentils, and chickpeas in 2019, according to an industry official.

“With the trade issues we’re facing right now, we have quite a surplus,” said Shannon Berndt, executive director of the Northern Pulse Growers Association in Bismarck, North Dakota, pointing to Indian pulse tariffs and the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

“Across the U.S. we will definitely see a drop in acres just due to the fact that we have such a large surplus we’re trying to work through,” said Berndt.

“We had two years of back-to-back historic acres planted, particularly in Montana,” she added. With those large crops now facing export challenges, she expected pulse acres would be down in 2019. She said acreage declines would likely be most noticeable in Montana, where there were more new growers.

“We have a solid base of producers here (in North Dakota) that are growing (pulses) for the agronomic and rotational value probably far more than for the price,” said Berndt.

“When the prices are really good you tend to see a lot of new growers step in, and those will be the folks who will be very hesitant to plant.”

Chickpea area saw the largest growth in the U.S. in recent years, and likely has the most room to decline in 2019. Peas, meanwhile, should benefit from increasing domestic demand.

“The silver lining to this dark cloud is that things have started picking up on the domestic side,” said Berndt, pointing to the increased demand from pea fractionization plants.

Some chickpea sales were still being made to India, despite the tariffs, while increased demand from the pet food sector also supported prices.

However, there are concerns that “if acres were to drop too much, that would affect any headway that’s been made.”

The recent partial government shutdown in the U.S. had been an unknown hanging over the country’s pulse sector, as the industry had been awaiting the release of the official harvest prices for revenue insurance purposes.

The harvest price data is used to set crop insurance payments, and will help offset the poor prices to some extent for those growers that took out insurance. Berndt said the harvest prices will also help when it comes to making acreage decisions for 2019.

“There’s certainly been some challenges thrown at us, but if we can slog through the next year we’ll see some real changes on the other side,” said Berndt.

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