El Nino’s arrival threatens prospects in key pulse markets

El Nino has arrived, and that increases the potential for poor pulse crop production in a couple of key regions of the world, says a meteorologist.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared on April 8 that weak El Nino conditions are present and there is an 80 percent chance they will last through the Northern Hemisphere spring and a 60 percent chance they persist through summer.

The weather phenomena could result in dry conditions in central and northern India as well as eastern Australia, which are important pulse growing regions of the world.

It is already dry in those regions heading into the planting season.

The Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar says nearly 50 percent of India is experiencing drought with 16 percent of the country in the exceptional to extreme categories.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued a special climate statement on April 9 on the intensification of drought in New South Wales and rainfall deficiencies in Queensland, Victoria and parts of eastern South Australia.

Joe Woznicki, operational forecaster with Commodity Weather Group, said El Nino conditions have been around since winter.

“(NOAA is) sometimes a little late on the uptake. We’ve been under this El Nino for a few months here now,” he said.

He said an El Nino has little impact on India’s weather patterns by itself, but when combined with the current neutral Indian Ocean Dipole it’s a different story.

“Those two things combined mainly trend things a little drier in the central and the north for the monsoon season,” said Woznicki.

Chickpeas and lentils are the two main rabi or summer season pulse crops.

Three-quarters of India’s chickpea crops are grown in the central and northern states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Three-quarters of the country’s lentils are planted in the northern states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Woznicki expects the dryness to be focused on Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh based on a historical analysis of similar conditions.

He believes it will be dry enough in central and northern India to stress crops but not enough to cause a major drought.

“It definitely could cause some yield declines I would think,” he said.

El Nino has a more direct impact on Australia where it tends to cause dry conditions, especially in the east.

Australia’s main winter pulse crops are chickpeas and lentils.

Almost all of Australia’s chickpeas are grown in New South Wales and Queensland while the vast majority of lentils are planted in Victoria and South Australia.

All of those areas are dry heading into the winter planting season, which starts in May.

Marlene Boersch, managing partner with Mercantile Consulting Venture, said adverse weather conditions in either of those countries could be the defining moment of the 2019-20 crop year for pulses.

“Any problem in India and all of the sudden carryout that we have been bemoaning on lentils will look very reasonable and will go away very quickly,” she said.

Agriculture Canada forecasts 800,000 tonnes of lentil carryout at the end of the 2018-19 crop year, the second highest on record.

She said the same goes for peas, although there could be reduced demand out of China to offset the potential increased purchases from India.

“I do believe that China will have to buy peas for edible purposes, meaning fractionation,” said Boersch.

“But feed peas are done, simply because of the culling of the hog herds.”

Australia is a major competitor to Canada, shipping its chickpeas and lentils into the Indian subcontinent. But the poor soil moisture reserves and the development of an El Nino do not bode well for that country.

“There are very serious reservations in Australia about wheat and barley production for next year, which holds true for everything else as well,” said Boersch.

Another factor for western Canadian growers to consider come spring planting is Black Sea pulse production.

UkrAgroConsult is reporting that Ukraine’s pea acreage may be reduced by 20 percent this year. The country’s agriculture ministry forecasts 857,000 acres, down from 1.06 million acres last year.

It expects a similar downward trend in pea acres in other Black Sea countries as well in 2019.

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