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Pulse Market Insight #235 JUL 31 2023 | Producers | Pulse Market Insights

Comparisons and Crop Yield Guesses

In the last Pulse Market Insight, we talked about seeded acreage as the first piece of the crop outlook puzzle. Now, all the attention is focused on yield potential for the 2023 crop. Over the last few weeks, a lot of weather has (or hasn’t) happened as scattered systems have moved across the prairies, leaving a patchwork of very dry and not quite as dry areas. Now, yields are close to locked in.

Of course, this year’s dry conditions are leading to lots of comparisons with the historic 2021 growing season. Memories are still fresh of the disastrous conditions in 2021 that stretched across the prairies, from west to east and south and north. In 2023, those dry conditions aren’t as widespread but where it’s very dry, it’s just as bad.

While they’re not perfect, we like to refer to crop reports from Alberta Ag and Sask Ag as a gauge of how crops are looking and, just as important, how they’re changing during the season. These crop ratings are also helpful in that they let us compare one year against another. Keep in mind, the last available ratings were from the week of July 10. We also recognize that crop output is determined by numerous factors and visual appearance doesn’t tell the whole story about yields.

The last ratings of pea crops in Alberta and Saskatchewan were both at 50% good or excellent, with the 10-year average for both provinces at 68% good/exc. Ratings in Alberta have been relatively steady while Saskatchewan ratings are still declining. It’s worth noting that on average, ratings of pea (and lentil) conditions tend to decline gradually during the year, possibly because mature pulse crops just don’t look as good as lush green crops.

These crop ratings also show that while provincial pea crops in 2023 are below average, they’re still considerably better than conditions in 2021. So what does that mean for yields? This is where the uncertainty/guesstimating comes in. We’ve taken our 2023 yield estimate down 11% from the olympic (last five years with the high and low removed) average of 37 bu/acre, to 33 bu/acre. That’s still well above the 22 bu/acre seen in 2021. The rationale for keeping our guesstimate closer to average than 2021 is that the 2023 season hasn’t seen the same extreme heat as 2021 and conditions seem to be more stable, not dropping as hard as they did in 2021.

It’s a similar picture for lentil conditions in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Crop ratings are below average but better than they were in 2021. In Alberta, 50% of lentils were rated good or excellent, below the 10-year average of 61% but better than 2021 at 42% good/exc. The Saskatchewan lentil crop was rated at 44% good/exc versus the 10-year average of 62% and the 2021 rating of only 25% good/exc. And just like peas, the declines in the crop ratings have moderated in the last two weeks of available data.

We’ve taken our lentil yield estimate down to 1,130 pounds (19 bushels) per acre, 15% less than the olympic average of 1,330 lb/acre. That’s still considerably better than the 2021 yield of 850 pounds (14 bushels) per acre. Based on the last crop ratings, conditions seem to have stabilized compared to the large declines seen in 2021.

These crop ratings and yield estimates are made at a single point in time and will change as more information comes in. That said, the crop is maturing fairly quickly which could spare it from further losses. Even so, for both peas and lentils, lower yields together with reduced acreage will mean tighter supplies in 2023/24 and demand will need to adjust to this reality.

Pulse Market Insight provides market commentary from Chuck Penner of LeftField Commodity Research to help with pulse marketing decisions.