Too soon to count out Indian pulse crop

Seeding of India’s summer pulse crops is well behind normal and monsoon rains have been disappointing.

But it is too soon to be counting on a short crop and increased imports, said Carl Potts, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.

“We’ve had other years where they were seemingly very far behind on getting the crop planted but then end up in a situation where they have a reasonably good crop,” he said.

Indian farmers had seeded 15.36 million acres of pulses as of July 19. That compares to 18.27 million acres the same time a year ago and 24.7 million acres the year before that.

One of the reasons for the delayed planting is the poor monsoon rainfall, which was 18 percent below normal for the period between June 1 and July 19.

This year’s monsoon was delayed by about 10 to 15 days by the formation of cyclone Vayu over the Arabian Sea. That resulted in June rainfall being 33 percent below normal.

July has been much better. Rainfall between July 1 and July 19 was three percent below normal. And the India Meteorological Department expects August to be better than July.

Potts said pigeon peas are the kharif (summer) crop that Canadian growers should keep an eye on because green lentils are a good substitute.

Pigeon peas are grown in the states of Andhra Pradesh, where rainfall has been 27 percent below normal, Karnataka, where it has been 17 percent deficient and Maharashtra, where there has been a nine percent shortfall.

Vivek Agrawal, director of JLV Agro, an Indian commodity brokerage firm, said production of pigeon peas and green mung beans will be down but it is too early to determine the magnitude of the decline.

Mike Jubinville, an analyst with MarketsFarm, is hopeful that India will start importing more pulses and that Chinese demand will remain strong.

“I think we’re turning the corner here. I think we’ve seen the worst of this now. It’s passing,” he said.

“I don’t want to paint it as the cloudy skies are starting to clear for us on the pulse side but I think we’ve established our bottoms here.”

India used to buy Canadian peas and lentils in 50,000 tonne cargoes, which would force processors to do some anticipatory buying from farmers.

That doesn’t happen anymore. India bought 174,860 tonnes of Canadian peas in 2018 compared to 1.3 million tonnes the previous year.

The “pick-away” buying has curtailed prices with yellow pea bids in the $6.50 to $6.60 per bushel range. Jubinville said he would sell some peas if the price climbed to the $6.75 to $6.80 range.

“This market is probably going to be kind of stalled for a period of time,” he said.

He believes lentil prices may climb higher, not by nickels and dimes per pound but by pennies per pound. But that may not happen until the second half of the 2019-20 marketing year.

A lot will depend on the outcome of India’s pigeon pea crop.

Bimal Kothari, a trader with Pancham International, is forecasting total Indian pulse imports of one million tonnes in 2019-20, according to a Business Standard article. That would be down from the high of 6.6 million tonnes in 2016-17.

Agrawal believes it will be closer to 1.4 million tonnes.

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