Sky-high prices spark a boom in pulse production

Drought in India has sent prices to record highs, but the challenge for 
Alberta growers is finding yellow pea and red lentil seed

Alberta producer Allison Ammeter (right) joined celebrity chef Michael Smith and culinary author Anita Stewart at the launch of the International Year of Pulses in Toronto earlier this month. Ammeter is the Canadian chair of the IYP as well as chair of Alberta Pulse Growers. The trio was photobombed by cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal at the event, part of this year’s worldwide effort to promote pulse consumption.
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Expect to be hearing a lot more about pulses in 2016. And seeing a lot more of them, too — as western Canadian pulse acreage is set to soar this year.

“Red lentils and yellow peas will be the leaders,” said Wes Reid, purchasing manager for WA Pulse Solutions, an Innisfail-based commodity buyer and seller. “Prices are very high, probably the highest we’ve ever seen.”

In the past year, yellow peas have soared from an average price of $6.75 all the way up to $12.50 a bushel — a sharp drop even from the fall, when growers were thrilled to be getting $9.50 a bushel.

Pulse acres have increased exponentially in the last five years, and are expected to grow across Western Canada, and the northern U.S., as far down as South Dakota. Turkey is also expected to grow a lot of red lentils, while Russia, Ukraine and Pakistan will be growing lots of yellow peas. Australia is planting large yellow pea and red lentil crops.

“India is under the worst drought conditions that it’s seen in a long time, so it’s going to need all it can get,” said Reid.

But there are a few challenges that new growers face when they are growing pulses. Pulses need to be taken off early enough that the rain doesn’t affect the grades, and the crops don’t tolerate frost well. Lentils need high heat units to grow properly, and do best in the southern parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Peas don’t need the same amount of heat units and are the most popular pulse crop grown throughout Alberta.

Until three years ago, peas used to be difficult to combine because they were so low to the ground. Many growers picked up dirt and rocks trying to get their peas into the combine.

“The newer varieties of green and yellow peas are standing up better, so that challenge is gone,” said Reid.

But another one has emerged — finding seed for yellow peas and red lentils.

“The seed is in short supply,” said Reid. “There’s really not too much seed out there to be purchased. Finding yellow pea seed is amazingly difficult, and the same is true for red lentils.”

While seed for green lentils will be easier to find and that pulse crop is also fetching good prices, it doesn’t yield as much as red lentils.

Pulses offer a few benefits in addition to their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. They require less water and fertilizer than some other crops and can be harvested earlier, so that part of the harvest is done before wheat, barley, or canola.

Aside from the economic and agronomic benefits, world demand for pulses is growing.

The United Nations has designated 2016 as the International Year of the Pulse, and it’s hoped that boosting international awareness about pulses will drive demand. Pulses are used in dishes around the world, and have become an ingredient in foods such as breads, noodles, snacks and gluten-free foods.

Canada is the world’s largest pulse-exporting nation, with 77 per cent of all pulses produced exported to 150 countries. In 2014, those pulses exports were valued at more than $3 billion. Pulses are a low-fat, high-fibre source of protein, that can be used to help manage health issues like diabetes and heart disease. Pulse crops are Canada’s fifth-largest crop, after wheat, canola, corn, and barley.

Chris Chivilo, owner of WA Pulse Solutions, is one of the speakers at Agronomy Update in Red Deer on Jan. 19-20. The conference will also feature presentations on red lentil agronomy and on aphanomyces, which cause root rot in peas and lentils and are now widespread across the Prairies.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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