Poor quality expected in lentil crop
The Western Producer – September 11, 104
Downgrading due to weather | Industry officials have concerns about quality and yield
The lentil industry is heading for a repeat of 2010 with a glut of poor quality crop that will be hard to process and market, say analysts and a major handler of the crop.
“Today I would be very surprised if there are a lot of No. 2s left out in the field,” said Greg Simpson, chief executive officer of Simpson Seeds.
It is still early in the harvest but it is becoming apparent buyers are going to have to lower their standards and be willing to accept a lot of poor No. 2s, Extra 3s and No. 3s in the 2014-15 marketing campaign.
Lentils have been affected by the wet weather more than any other crop except for soybeans. Green lentils have been particularly hard hit with anything harvested after the late-August rains being a No. 2 or worse due to excessive bleaching and wrinkled seed coasts.
“(The reds) are a little bit more bulletproof,” he said.
Smaller seeds and a thicker pod make red lentils more rainproof and they are sold as a No. 2 or better, which gives the crop more wriggle room.
But Simpson still anticipates serious quality damage with this year’s red lentil crop, with many fields not making the top grade.
Dale Risula, special crops specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, is more concerned about yield than quality.
Lentils don’t like wet feet and they had to put up with those conditions all year long.
“We saw a lot of root rot in the plants this year. I don’t think that’s going to affect quality so much as it will yield,” he said.
Sclerotinia and ascochyta have also shown up but again the impact will mainly be on yields as long as farmers used fungicides.
Risula felt this year’s crop had the potential to match last year’s record yields and production before the disease damage appeared. Now he believes it will be closer to an average year.
Analysts such as Larry Weber, owner of Weber Commodities, and Brian Clancey, editor of Stat Publishing, agree with Simpson’s assessment of crop quality.
However, Risula feels it may be too early to write off the 2014 crop.
“They may be jumping the gun just a little bit,” he said.
Risula still holds out hope that crop quality will be about average because he feels late-seeded lentils were too green to be hurt by the late-August and early-September rains. He hasn’t heard many reports of bleaching and sprouting damage.
And samples from the early-seeded material have been encouraging.
“I know that there have been a number of guys taking their lentils off already and they’re not looking too bad,” said Risula.
Saskatchewan Agriculture estimates that 23 percent of the province’s lentil crop had been harvested as of Sept. 1.
Simpson believes the number is less than that, so he agrees that it is early to be passing judgment on 3.2 million acres of lentils.
On the other hand, harvest rains have been pervasive across the entire lentil growing region, so it seems a no-brainer that major downgrading has occurred, especially when Simpson reflects on conditions on his own waterlogged farm near Moose Jaw.
“It’s bizarre, it’s absolutely bizarre. I’ve just never seen this in my entire lifetime. We’ve got bulrushes that are eight feet tall,” he said.
Simpson agreed with Risula that yields will be disappointing. He believes 250,000 acres were flooded out and there is a lot of seed being lost to wind and rain as desiccated fields await the combines.
“I would probably reduce yields down across the board to a 20 bushel crop at best,” he said.
Agriculture Canada is using 24.4 bu. per acre in its supply and demand estimates, while others had penciled in a 30 bushel crop.
Simpson is forecasting 1.8 million tonnes of production, which is below Statistics Canada’s forecast of two million tonnes and the crop is getting smaller every day it remains in the field.
Lentils are the one principal field crop where carryout numbers are below last year’s levels. Statistics Canada estimates there was 169,000 tonnes on hand as of July 31, which is 45 percent smaller than 2013 levels.
So there won’t be much relief in terms of good quality carryout from 2013. Prices for top quality lentils will be on the rise. The remainder of the crop will be difficult although not impossible to sell.
“When you boil it all down, does (the poor quality) impact the human consumption ability of the lentil? Absolutely not,” said Simpson.
“It’s still a lentil. It still has protein. It’s not pretty to look at but once you throw it in a pot and make a soup out of it, it still turns into food.”
The most important lesson learned from the 2010 disaster is that there are always buyers for poor quality lentils, especially large green lentils because Canada is the only major supplier in the world for that class.
“We will find a way to market this crop,” he said.