Pulse lone bright spot in crop forecast

Break-even yields are a little lower for spring wheat and canola this year, and there’s real money to be made growing peas and lentils

There’s good news and there’s bad news in this year’s crop profitability forecasts.

The good news?

Break-even yields for both spring wheat and canola are just slightly lower this year, according to provincial forecasts. And even if you just pull off average yields for peas, you’ll really have something to smile about.

“Since the projections were made for new-crop yellow peas, I think you can lock in $10 a bushel. That’s changed pretty dramatically,” said Kevin Hursh of Hursh Consulting and Communications.

“When you start adding another dollar a bushel to the value of these, that’s starting to look pretty attractive.”

The flip side is that field peas is the only crop that is an across-the-province winner.

Spring wheat is (barely) profitable in two soil zones and canola in three zones, according to provincial forecasts. Feed barley pencils out in four zones, but save in the Black soil zone, it’s a near thing.

“Spring wheat, even growing a 40-bushel crop, isn’t going to make you money,” Hursh, a Saskatchewan farmer and journalist, told Agronomy Update attendees last month.

“Durum isn’t going to quite cut it either. Feed barley sucks. Malting barley — because they assume a much lower yield and somewhat higher cost — doesn’t work either.”

But lentils are sitting at a “historically good price,” and that has a lot of producers considering their cropping options, particularly in the Brown soil zone.

“I think there’s going to be lentils coming out of our ying yangs next year,” said Hursh.

Until now, lentils have largely been a “missed opportunity” in Alberta.


(click for larger view)
photo: Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

“In 2015, Alberta had 250,000 acres. Saskatchewan had 3.7 million acres. I think there’s a little more room to have a little more lentils here in Alberta,” said Hursh.

But growers shouldn’t see a dramatic drop in lentil prices, and even if prices slide a bit it won’t be because of acres going up in Alberta.

“The demand for lentils is very large. Can we overproduce? Can we see the price go down? I think it’s quite likely we will,” said Hursh. “But if you guys grow an extra 50,000 or 100,000 or double your acres, it isn’t going to be that big in the whole scheme of things.

“You’re not single-handedly going to wreck the price next year.”

And as the current surge in lentil prices shows, producers need to be looking at “the full range of cropping options” to get the best prices from year to year.

“Lentils are the focus of attention right now, but I think there’s going to be more and more opportunities coming — maybe not as big as the lentil opportunity, but there’s more and more smaller niches around,” said Hursh, pointing to canary seed, chickpeas, and even quinoa as other alternatives.

“Because our farms are getting larger on average and we tend to be throughput oriented, sometimes we’re discounting any of the opportunities that are going to take some extra time and extra effort.

“There’s opportunities out there, and I think there’s going to be more opportunities coming down the pipeline.”

About the author


Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.


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