Pulse weekly outlook: Chickpea market under pressure

Current crop up against disease issues

MarketsFarm — Lost demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping pressure on the Canadian chickpea market, despite disease issues causing problems for nearly a third of the country’s crop, according to an industry source.

After disease caused problems for chickpeas in some areas of southern Saskatchewan in 2019, the radius of the problem area has widened this year, said Colin Young of Midwest Grain at Moose Jaw.

Young estimated 30 per cent of the crop was facing disease pressure from what’s believed to be a form of ascochyta blight.

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The cause is not yet known, with current fungicides doing little to help. Young said the solution would be finding resistant varieties or properly identifying the pathogen in order to optimize fungicide applications, but that would take time.

Fields hit by the disease typically see lower yields and smaller-diameter chickpeas, Young said.

While there is still time for infected fields to recover, “we will definitely see a reduction in yields in those affected areas,” he said.

Canadian chickpea acres were already down 24 per cent on the year, at 297,800, according to Statistics Canada data. Early forecasts from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada predict production for 2020-21 at 200,000 tonnes, which would be down from 251,500 grown the previous year.

However, even with the production issues, “the market is completely dead for chickpeas,” according to Young.

Canada typically sees its marketing opportunities when other growing regions, such as Turkey or Eastern Europe, run out of cheaper stocks. However, he said, that isn’t happening this year.

While some pulses, such as lentils, have seen increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Young said that wasn’t the case for chickpeas.

“In most of the consumption areas of the world, such as Pakistan and the Middle East, (chickpeas) are more of a foodservice, restaurant, wedding banquet-type meal as opposed to lentils — which are a cook-at-home-daily-type pulse,” said Young.

As a result, economic shutdowns due to the pandemic have left chickpea importers very cash-strapped and with large unsold supplies.

Chickpeas are generally marketed in surges, ebbing and flowing as end users fill their needs for two months at a time.

He was hopeful some sense of normalcy would eventually return, but the timing of that remains to be seen.

All things being normal, without the lost demand due to the pandemic, supplies should be tighter than normal. In addition to Canada’s smaller crop, the U.S., Mexico, and Argentina also reduced their chickpea acres this year.

— Phil Franz-Warkentin reports for MarketsFarm from Winnipeg.

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