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40 years of pulses: A look at how far we've come


Jeff Bertholet, Technical Service Manager – BASF Canada Agricultural Solutions

Pulses are a true Canadian success story. Looking back on the past four decades, pulse growers have had an incredible impact and, moving ahead, they’ll remain an essential part of both our economic success and our ability to feed a growing world population.


In the past five years alone, global demand has driven a 60 per cent increase in pulse acres. Today, Canada is home to 4.2 million acres of farmland growing peas and 4.2 million acres of farmland growing lentils.


Canadian growers now supply approximately 40 per cent of the world’s lentils – an astounding accomplishment, especially given the role pulses play in providing a reliable food supply around the globe. By 2050, we’ll need about 70 per cent more food to feed a population of about 10 billion people. Reliable pulse production is among the ways we’ll do it.


And, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, Canada will continue to be the world leader in the pulse trade, with a forecasted seven million tonnes of exports by 2025. Canada’s total pulse production is anticipated to increase to 8.7 million tonnes, putting our production only second to that of India.


So, how did we get here? The exponential growth we’ve witnessed is a testament to the pulse growers across the country who are eager to try new technologies and innovations – many of which BASF has been proud to provide.

Growing through innovation and partnership

Since our entry into the pulse market 40 years ago, the industry has changed significantly. But our job has always remained the same: to ensure growers have the solutions they need to produce and deliver a strong, sustainable crop. BASF has invested countless hours in research and development, and provided unrivalled support at the field level, to provide access to the resources growers need to overcome agronomic challenges.


One of our proudest accomplishments is our longstanding partnership with the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan. Since partnering in the 1990s, BASF has invested a total of $12 million in the research and development of crop genetics and the commercialization of new pulse and wheat varieties. Innovating together, we have been able to help growers tackle challenges head-on and in turn, the pulse industry to thrive.


We started by helping farmers overcome some of the initial barriers to pulse success, namely in weed control. Pulse crops are highly susceptible to yield loss due to weed competition, so providing growers with effective weed management solutions became a top priority for the industry to help make pulses a viable and profitable crop.


In the 1990s, BASF and the CDC teamed up to discover and commercialize IMI tolerance in lentils. BASF followed this up a few short years later in 1997 with Odyssey®, one of the first IMI herbicides for pulses, providing control of a wide spectrum of weeds in a single pass across multiple crops including lentils, soybeans and pulses.


The greater ability to control weeds along with expanding market opportunities meant the pulse industry could grow. New challenges emerged, with growers encountering diseases on their fields that had the potential to severely limit pulse production. That led BASF to launch Headline® and Lance® fungicides into the market in 2003 and 2004, respectively, helping growers to achieve cleaner fields.


Farmers’ receptiveness to these solutions, combined with a forward-thinking mindset, are what allow us to continue innovating. Early adopters are the reason that BASF is a Canadian leader in pulse crop protection today and, ultimately, why Canada is a leader in pulse production.

What’s next for pulses?

As we look ahead and the world’s population continues to grow, we are committed to investing the time, energy and funding it takes to ensure pulse farmers can succeed now and into the future. Since 2010, we have doubled our portfolio and, in the next 10 years, we will launch at least 50 new products.


This is no easy feat. Back in 1995, bringing a product to market took about eight years – today, it’s about 11. Every product goes through rigorous testing to ensure it is effective and safe, and that it meets or exceeds Canada’s regulatory requirements. Every year, we also reinvest 10 per cent of crop protection sales into research. A portion of herbicide sales also goes into the CDC breeding program to support ongoing research and development of new Clearfield® lentil varieties.


Our partnership with the CDC will remain essential. In late 2020, as we marked 25 years of collaboration, BASF pledged another $100,000 towards building a new, world-class Enhanced Breeding Facility at the CDC in Saskatoon. The new pledge adds to BASF’s $125,000 investment in the Pulse Crop Field Lab in 2005 and $200,000 towards the Grain Innovation Lab in 2009.


Along with our longstanding collaboration with the CDC, we also forge partnerships with other important groups who share our dedication to growing Canada’s pulse industry. We’re a proud and active member of Pulses Canada and the Canadian Grain Commission.


It’s remarkable to reflect on how far Canada’s pulse industry has come and the incredible impact it has had on our economy and society over the past 40 years. There’s no doubt the strength of our country’s pulse growers will only continue to grow – and we look forward to helping them do it.