Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Pulse weekly outlook: Lentil crop expected to spike in Alberta

green lentils
Green lentils. (Alexey Shipilov/iStock/Getty Images)

MarketsFarm — One bright spot for Alberta agriculture in 2020 has been the province’s lentil crop. The amount of the pulse grown this year skyrocketed by more than 173 per cent than compared to 2019, according to Statistics Canada.

The federal agency reported Monday that lentil production in Alberta is set to hit a record 458,124 tonnes this year. In 2019, the province produced 167,600 tonnes. The previous record was in 2016, when 451,800 tonnes of lentils were grown.

Alberta Pulse Growers chair Don Shepert, who farms near St. Brides, about 150 km northeast of Edmonton, explained the huge increase.

“Price is number one. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world wanted protein, they came after lentils and all of a sudden lentils from the countryside were being shipped,” he said, noting prices jumped from about 15 cents/lb. to 30 and upward to 35 in some cases.

“When you’re getting 15 cents/lb., nobody grows lentils,” he said.

There really hasn’t been one type of lentil that stands out this year compared to other varieties, although red lentils are easier to grow and tend to have better yields than green lentils, he said. With those differences, one benefit for green lentils is they often come with a price premium.

“It seems to be a preference of the grower,” Shepert said, adding that on the whole, lentils use up less water than other crops, making it a good option for farmers in eastern and southern Alberta.

In dry years, he said farmers can still get their lentils to produce 10 to 15 bushels per acre. With good moisture, yields will increase. He pointed to the 374,200 acres that were planted in 2019, compared to 415,300 this year.

Prairie Ag Hotwire reported lentil prices ranged from 19.5 to 30 cents/lb. delivered for Lairds, 16-24 for Estons, and 15-22.5 for Richleas. Crimson lentils garnered 18-25 cents/lb. and French were 21-23.

StatsCan, in its model-based principal field crop estimates released Monday, forecast total lentil production to come to 3.065 million tonnes this year, the second most on record. That’s a 9.3 per cent increase from its August report and a 36.7 per cent jump from 2019, when Canada produced 2.242 million tonnes.

Saskatchewan grows the bulk of the country’s lentils and is set to reap 2.605 million tonnes this year, for its second-largest crop. No other provinces grew a StatsCan-reportable amount of lentils in 2020.

— Glen Hallick reports for MarketsFarm from Winnipeg.

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