Lentils; A win-win for Canada and South Amreica

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): International Trade  

By Leo Quigley, AJOT
For years farmers in Western Canada grew primarily wheat with some oats and barley. And, they grew it under the auspices of the powerful Canadian Wheat Board who, at that time, sold wheat primarily to the U.K. and Russia.
However, in the early ‘70s researchers at the University of Saskatchewan took several plant varieties and, from them, developed new crops that were outside of the Canadian Wheat Board’s jurisdiction, the most successful being rapeseed that was used for oil and through further breeding became canola that is now common on supermarket shelves worldwide, with the hulls of the canola seed also used for cattle feed.
Among these new varieties were also lentils, first grown in 1969 which was a year when Western Canadian farmers had a surplus of wheat and badly needed a source of revenue. By 1973 lentil production had increased to roughly 6,000 hectares.
Through a series of good and bad years, as agronomic practices were developed, lentil production slowly increased until, in 1978 a new lentil variety, the Laird lentil was developed at the university. “Big and bright” the Laird lentil, the first Canadian lentil cultivar, found a ready market in South America where, for several years, it sold at a premium to the familiar Chilean lentil.
As the market for Canadian lentils grew, lentil growers in Canada formed the Saskatchewan Pulse Crop Development Board and voted in a compulsory check off of 0.5 percent to fund further research and lentil and pea promotions domestically and overseas.
Today Canada is the largest lentil producer in the world and the second largest exporter in the world and in 2005 exported a record 650,000 tonnes of lentils worldwide.
However, while the development of this market became a major source of fresh income to farmers in Western Canada. It also had benefited farmers in South America who were then able to move into new, more lucrative, crops such as fruit and vegetables.
In addition, farmers in Western Canada benefited from the fact that lentils, being a legume, added nitrogen to the soil and generally improved the tilth and quality of their fields in preparation for other crops, such as wheat and corn, that require nitrogen during the growth period.
Moving lentils to South American markets, particularly Columbia was also a learning experience for farmers and brokers according to Greg Simpson, a grower and president of Simpson Seeds, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. At first, many shippers tried to ship lentils in bulk, however they found that the handling while they were being loaded and unloaded, together with the weight of the lentils in the railway car, damaged the seed and the result was a lower price at market.
Clearly, the most desirable way to ship high quality lentils, such as Laird, was in bags. And, fortunately the expansion of the lentil business was taking place at a time when containerization of breakbulk moving on railways was becoming popular and, at the time, surplus containers were readily available at reasonable rates.
Therefore, a large part of the Western Canada’s lentil production moved to containers which, according to Simpson, were stuffed on the farm or at the processing plant, or trucked to the Port of Metro Vancouver, bagged and loaded into a container at the point of export.
Clearly, the development of Western Canada’s lentil business that was launched by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan has benefited not only South American consumers and farmers, but Canadian farmers, processors and the shipping industry.
And according to Simpson, because of their high nutrition and iron content, lentils should have a much larger role to play in food aid being delivered to under nourished countries that are now receiving dehulled rice with very little nutrition.

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American Journal of Transportation