Rain marks lentil quality divide

Lentil quality will be all over the map this year, says a major processor of the crop.

Greg Simpson, president of Simpson Seeds, said the early harvested crop is in good shape, at least in the Moose Jaw and Swift Current regions of Saskatchewan, where the company operates its processing plants.

“We had pretty darn good quality, largely in the No. 2 or better (range),” he said.

That meshes with Saskatchewan Agriculture’s estimate that 16 percent of the crop was No. 1, 55 percent No. 2 and 22 percent No. 3, with three-quarters of the crop in the bin.

But everything changed when a prolonged province-wide rainfall began on Sept. 9.

“I suspect that the other 25 percent of acres out there will be a No. 3 and sample grade,” said Simpson.

Sherrilyn Phelps, agronomy manager with Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, agrees with that assessment.

“The stuff that is left in the field may have quality issues with this wet weather,” she said.

She has viewed pictures on Twitter from the southern portion of the province showing sprouting and staining issues in lentil samples.

Harvest rains can really impact lentil quality because pulse crops are indeterminant, so any moisture applied to mature seeds can lead to sprouting.

Chuck Penner, analyst with LeftField Commodity Research, has drawn parallels to 2014 and 2016 when there was a limited quantity of No. 1 and No. 2 lentils.

In both of those years, the amount of No. 2 or better crop was around 40 percent of the total harvest compared to the usual 75 to 90 percent.

Penner said that can lead to marketing challenges but also opportunities.

“For those who managed to harvest earlier, limited supplies of higher quality peas and lentils will likely mean larger premiums for the top grades,” the LeftField Commodity Research analyst said in the most recent edition of SaskPulse’s Pulse Point newsletter.

Simpson disagreed. He said he believes there will be ample supply of No. 2 or better red and green lentils to meet the market’s needs, especially with last year’s carryout.

He said farmers appear to be waiting for 20 cent red lentil prices but that “isn’t in the cards” due to fierce competition from other exporters.

“I would love to pay 20 cents but we can’t get a buyer who would be interested in entertaining that price,” said Simpson.

That is because Kazakhstan has 200,000 tonnes of cheap red lentils it is marketing into Europe and the Middle East.

Australia is forecast to harvest 343,000 tonnes of red lentils. They are preferred over Canadian lentils in markets in the Indian Subcontinent, especially Sri Lanka.

He doesn’t foresee Canadian No. 2 or better red lentil prices moving past 18 cents per pound until the competition from Kazakhstan and Australia subsides.

Simpson believes Canada will produce 1.3 to 1.4 million tonnes of red lentils, three-quarters of which will be No. 2 or better quality.

And another 400,000 to 500,000 tonnes of good quality reds are left from last year’s crop.

Russia is the big threat on large green lentils. It is selling top quality product into the Middle East at 19 cents per pound. The price indicates the country has a good supply of product.

Iran typically imports about 140,000 to 150,000 tonnes of large green lentils, about half of which comes from Canada.

“That just isn’t going to happen,” said Simpson.

He is also concerned about the U.S. harvest of 250,000 tonnes of medium-sized green lentils in addition to another 250,000 tonnes of carryout.

The U.S. supply is mainly No. 2 or better quality and the price is 19 to 20 cents per lb.

Simpson doesn’t think Canadian growers should be balking at No. 1 Laird lentil prices of 24 cents per pound because there can’t be too much of a premium over U.S. Richlea lentils.

He encourages growers to sell at least a portion of their crop at today’s prices because the demand is there.

“Every day that goes by and every week that goes by, those are opportunities that we can’t get back,” he said.

But growers are reluctant sellers of reds and greens. He believes that is partly because they are unhappy with prices but mainly because they are still fully immersed in harvest activities.

“Who’s thinking marketing when (they’re) just trying to get the crops in the bin before the snow flies?” said Simpson.

Pea quality is more consistent and generally much better than lentils. Saskatchewan agriculture is forecasting 31 percent of the crop as No. 1, 58 percent No. 2 and 10 percent No. 3. That was with 79 percent of the crop harvested.

Most of the unharvested crop is in the north where late-seeded peas haven’t had a chance to fully mature and are therefore more impervious to rain damage than the lentils.

“I think they are probably in better shape,” said Phelps.

“I would expect the quality would be OK.”

The biggest agronomic issue going forward is for growers to scout next year’s pulse fields for weed growth.

She expects to see plenty of germination due to the wet conditions. Weed control options are limited on pulse crops.

“We know that fall management of those weeds can go a long ways to help weed pressure in the following year,” said Phelps.

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