Published on Thu, 02/15/2018 by BASF Canada

Emerging markets and sound agronomics build a strong case for pulses in 2018

The pulse industry in Canada is on the verge of a transformation.

Growers need to look at their own individual operation, crop budget, projections for yield, and experience with pulses and make decisions that result in the best overall long-term returns for them.

While pulses have been on a steady incline in seeded acres for more than a decade in Canada, most analysts believe 2018 will see a sharp 20 percent decline, mainly due to market uncertainty when it comes to peas and lentils.

India’s new import tariffs on peas, lentils and chickpeas have left questions about the profitability of pulse exports to key markets around the world. Yet here at home, booming infrastructure development is pointing to a bright future for pulses. Last year saw significant announcements of new pulse production facilities planned for the Prairies, with each expected to process more than 100,000 tonnes of lentils, beans, chickpeas and, of course, peas.

It’s enough to leave a grower asking if pulses should be higher on the agenda in 2018.

According to some industry experts, growers should consider the infrastructure investments being made and global demand for plant-based protein as long-term indicators of profitability.

“India accounts for 40 percent of Canada’s total pea exports, but we expect markets like China, Bangladesh and other smaller markets to pick up part of that excess,” said Carl Potts, Executive Director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. “As for the recent infrastructure announcements, if you consider the amount of peas they will be processing once operational, it puts Canada as the third largest market overall for peas. That represents incremental new demand and processing for pulses that is much closer to home than traditional export markets.”

Leading agri-businesses also see the long-term potential for pulses here in Canada. Since the 1990s, BASF has invested in bringing innovative chemistries to-market that have helped make pulse acres lucrative for growers. “If you look at the beginning of pulse production, the biggest improvement was around the introduction of herbicides that were tolerant on pulses,” said Glen Forster, Technical Marketing Specialist for Fungicides at BASF. “Clearfield Lentils and imidazolinone chemistries for peas allowed for more pulse acres to be grown across Western Canada because we were able to effectively manage weed pressure. It began a dynamic shift in Canadian pulse production.”

The main message from BASF for growers is to evaluate how pulse acres impact their long-term profitability – especially as a rotational crop that helps ensure healthy soils in Western Canada. “Having a legume in your rotation provides nitrogen fixation, allowing less reliance on a fertilizer application. It improves organic soil matter and builds the health of the soil for future crops, especially if you stick to a strong agronomic rotation overall,” said Forster.

Adding a pulse can also reduce disease pressure for future crops. “In market conditions as we are seeing, some growers may look to take pulses out of their rotation – possibly to add canola as a main alternative – but that will put additional pressure on canola diseases, such as Blackleg and Sclerotinia,” advised Forster. “When you have a more diverse rotation, you can get a longer break between host crops and less disease pressure on an annual basis. It won’t eliminate the disease, but it takes more time for that disease to cause an impact on the yield of your crop.”

The Saskatchewan Pulse Growers shares this sentiment. “I think peas will stay in a lot of rotations,” Potts said. “Many growers know those benefits and it is part of the reason why they’re a mainstay in many crop rotations.”

For those looking to add the benefits of pulses outside of peas, there are many alternatives to consider, including chickpeas, faba beans, dry beans and even soybeans. “If a farmer is looking for nitrogen fixation, soybeans are certainly increasing in acres in the province,” said Potts. “We’ve seen a lot of expansion across the Prairies, especially as varieties become more adapted to the conditions. It’s a crop that fits well into a lot of rotations.”

The bottom line: pulse acres – including peas – are worth investing in. “We’re certainly below the 10-year average for prices, but not the lowest we’ve seen,” said Potts. “Growers need to look at their own individual operation, crop budget, projections for yield, and experience with pulses and make decisions that result in the best overall long-term returns for them.”