North American pulse production is down sharply from last year
Brian Clancey, Senior Market Analyst and Publisher, STAT Communications – Fall/Winter (December) Pulse Beat 2021
ACCORDING TO THE most recent production estimates from Statistics Canada and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), North American pulse production is down sharply from last year. Combined output in the two countries has fallen from 11.9 to 7.05 million metric tonnes (MT). Some market participants expect further reductions in the official estimates when the final numbers are released in December and January.
The declines were partially offset by an increase in ending stocks in the two countries. Those rose from 1.18 to 1.62 million MT. Even so, the available supply sank from 13.09 to 8.67 million MT, well below the recent five-year average of 11.93 million.
The most dramatic change was in the number of peas and lentils grown this year. Lentil production sank from 3.86 to 2.36 million MT, while peas dropped from 5.58 to 3.09 million. While white bean output in Canada and the U.S. dropped from 463,000 to 349,000 MT, coloured bean output will fall more sharply from 1.6 million MT last year to an estimated 1.07 million this year.
Dry bean output by class was not broken in the U.S., but given the impact of drought on yields in North Dakota, it seems likely the pinto bean harvest has fallen from 635,200 to 327,100 MT. Black bean output is also down, dropping from almost 304,500 MT to an estimated 242,300; while navy bean output is expected to drop from 205,100 to 171,200 MT.
What is interesting is that while Canada will need to reduce exports of peas and lentils, it is not facing a fundamental shortage relative to the needs of the domestic market. That is not the case in the U.S. The country is looking at fundamental shortages of pinto beans, peas, chickpeas and possibly lentils.
EXPORTS TO THE U.S. SHOULD RISE
Manitoba is the leading producer of pinto beans in Canada. This year’s seeded area was initially estimated at 55,600 acres, down from 88,300 last year. The total area in Canada was estimated at 90,000 acres, compared to 97,300 last year. It may not be possible to get an accurate number for pinto bean area until crop insurance data is available. Not all farmers insure their crops, but that data helps get closer to reality. Given estimated coloured bean production in Manitoba, it may be that the province’s pinto bean harvest has dropped from around 96,000 MT to 57,200.
During the 2020–21 marketing year, Canada exported almost 61,400 MT of pinto beans, with roughly 7,800 going to the U.S. The previous marketing year, pinto bean exports 47,200 MT, with over 8,700 going to the U.S. Movement south of the border was higher in 2019–20 because available supplies of pinto beans were down in that country; while more abundant supplies in 2020–21 contributed to reduced buying interest in Canadian product.
Like all net exporting countries, Canada faces serious logistical problems shipping pulses outside North America. Ocean freight rates are unusually high and container availability is a constant problem. Combined with a short U.S. crop, this ought to see movement into that country increase because it is easier to move beans by truck or rail.
Peas should see a similar change in demand patterns. Available supplies of all classes of peas in the U.S. have dropped from 1.326 million MT to almost 840,000. This suggests total exports by that country will drop from 448,000 to 318,000 MT, while the quantity consumed by the domestic market may sink from 560,000 to 345,000 MT unless the U.S. exports less product and imports more peas from Canada.
Manitoba’s pea harvest is currently estimated at 182,800 MT, down from 246,200 last year. Total production in Canada has plunged from 4.59 to 2.53 million MT. Counting the carryover from last season, available pea supplies in Canada total 3.09 million MT, down from 4.91 million in 2020–21.
Canada has no choice but to reduce total exports. The biggest decline is expected with China, with shipments to all countries in Asia expected to sink from 3.22 to 1.62 million MT. By contrast, movement to the U.S. and Mexico could jump from 172,000 to 456,000 MT, with most going to the U.S.
THE FRACTIONATION FACTOR
The North American domestic market has changed considerably in the past few years. Years ago, peas only found their way in supermarket bulk bins, packages and soups. Now, they are used to manufacture protein and starch fractions and as ingredients in vegetarian pet foods. Those sectors have added a ton of demand to North American domestic markets, helped by recent increases in the number of fractionation plants.
That industry ought to be happy with this year’s harvest. Initial analysis by the Canadian Grain Commission suggests the average protein content of the Canadian crop increased from 23.1% last year to 25%. Initial samples submitted by farmers indicate the average for Manitoba is 24.8%, up from 22.7% last season.
Growers across western Canada ought to see solid demand in our domestic market and excellent opportunities to move product in the U.S., whether directly or through processors and exporters.
The implication is pricing for yellow peas could be well supported through the coming months as domestic buyers try to cover their needs and importers in other countries try to fill in gaps in their supplies. This has already seen average bids for yellow peas rise to a modest premium over green.
Farmers in North Dakota and Montana have moved away from green peas toward yellow because of the influence of the fractionation industry. But this year’s drought more than offset the acreage gains, with the result yellow pea output in North Dakota may have dropped from 214,000 to 157,000 MT and in Montana from 247,000 to 150,000.
Given all the sources of competing demand for what they grew, it is easy to imagine that the fractionation industry in the U.S. will need to look to Canada to fill in supply gaps. This year’s higher average protein content could help attract buyers from that sector.
Some companies pay protein premiums, improving the gross returns per acre for farmers.
One thing to always bear in mind is that while the trend is a friend, waiting endlessly for higher prices is going to run into two negative factors at some point in 2022 — buyer resistance outside North America and expectations of much lower prices after next year’s harvest.
If soil moisture conditions do not improve over the winter, all bets are off over how many peas will be planted and what kind of yields should be expected. However, it is not hard to imagine that a bullish year for peas will encourage expansion outside North America and increased competition for available demand in 2022–23. Never forget the old warning — the best cure for high prices is high prices because it encourages farmers to plant more.