Turkey continues as major buyer of red lentils

Canada provides the lion’s share of the country’s imports, which so far this year has been double the five-year average

Canada’s second largest red lentil market has been on a shopping spree in 2020 and that trend will continue to a lesser degree in 2021, says a processor of the crop.

Turkey imported 455,351 tonnes of lentils during the first nine months of 2020, which is double the previous five year average for that period, according to Stat Publishing.

Canada has provided 81 percent of those red lentils. Kazakhstan and Russia have been the other main suppliers.

Fethi Sonmez, chief executive officer with Armada Foods, a Turkish processor and importer/exporter of lentils, said there has been an increase in Turkish splitting and processing capacity in recent years.

“Re-exporting capacity to nearby countries has gone up accordingly,” he said in an email.

The country shipped out 316,740 tonnes of lentils in the January through September 2020 period, up from 179,253 tonnes the same time last year.

The higher import and export volumes are partially attributed to increased demand caused by the global pandemic.

The other main factor is that Turkey had a disappointing lentil harvest.

Farmers harvested 190,000 tonnes this year, down from the five-year average of 250,000 to 300,000 tonnes. As well, he said, there is more damaged grain than usual.

Armada’s number is well below the official government estimate of 372,490 tonnes of production.

Sonmez said he has no idea why the government number is nearly double, but he is confident in his company’s estimate.

He is forecasting continued strong demand out of Turkey in 2021. The country will import more than it did in 2019 but less than 2020.

Armada estimates Turkey will import between 350,000 and 375,000 tonnes of product in 2021.

David Hanna, president of Global Food and Ingredients Inc., a Canadian processor and exporter of pulses, said Turkish demand has slowed recently.

“It’s taking a little pause,” he said.

Turkey has taken a back seat to India in recent weeks as Canadian exporters rushed to take advantage of a temporary reduction in India’s import duties.

That flurry of trade with India has now subsided because exporters can no longer get product to that market in time to meet the Dec. 31, 2020, expiration of the reduction in duties.

“It was a very strong fall. I’d say it has quieted down quite a bit now. We’re seeing reduced activity,” said Hanna.

Turkey has been patiently waiting on the sidelines for the lull in Canada’s export program to India but also for Australia’s ample crop to hit the market.

The Australian harvest is wrapping up, and the government is forecasting 680,000 tonnes of production, a 43 percent increase over last year. Some industry officials think it will be closer to 750,000 tonnes.

Canada also harvested a big crop estimated at 3.07 million tonnes, up 29 percent over last year.

“While the demand has been solid, I think the supply has outstripped the demand this year,” said Hanna.

Red lentil prices have fallen from a peak of over 30 cents per pound in the fall to 27 to 28 cents last week.

He estimates Canada has exported slightly more than 40 percent of this year’s crop.

Hanna expects Turkey to start buying again fairly soon, but trade with India will be hampered by the anticipated restoration of its 30 percent import duty on Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, Turkey recently dropped its import tariff on red lentils to nine percent from 19.3 percent.

Sonmez said that has a lot to do with the disappointing harvest, but it is mainly a measure to control food price inflation because imported lentils are cheaper than the Turkish lentils, which fetch a quality premium in that market.

Canada might not have the same level of market share in Turkey that it did in 2020, when Kazakhstan and Russia could not compete very well on price and quality.

Australia is expected to be a much bigger player in Turkey this year because of its large crop.

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