2018 was definitely a tough year for farmers hit hard by tariffs and pulse crop producers probably got hit the worst. It started a little over a year ago when India, the biggest pulse importer, placed tariffs on pulse crops to protect their own producers. Then it got even worse when China, the EU and India retaliated against U.S. trade tariffs with duties of their own, slowing global pulse trade to a crawl.
But there were some small victories for pulse growers in 2018. $76 million of pulse crops were purchased through Section 32 food bank purchases and tariff relief programs from USDA. The Pulse Crop Health Initiative is allowing the pulse industry to provide health and nutrition information to consumers. Additional funding for pulse research was included in the 2018 farm bill and will dig into things like breeding new varieties, winter pulses and effective crop management techniques.
The USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council reports that they have applied for tariff relief funding from USDA to pursue new global markets, like Turkey and Indonesia. Yet another big positive for the pulse industry is the growing domestic market for pulse crops for both human and livestock consumption. That market is not large enough to eliminate the pain from tariffs across the globe but it does help provide some small price relief.
Will we be able see the tariffs eliminated in 2019? It’s possible but a lot of work needs to be done to get there. The U.S. and China have made progress on relieving trade tensions, which would be a big step in the right direction. When it comes to the Indian tariffs though, the situation is much murkier.
Representatives for the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council in India have reported that although the existing tariffs on dry pea imports into India expired on December 31st of 2018 – those tariffs have been extended to March 31st of this year – the end of India’s fiscal year.
Many Indian traders are indicating that not much will change occur until after India’s general election in the middle of the year. Early estimates though are that India pulse planting is down 6 percent from last year with chickpeas down 11 percent, lentils down 3 percent and dry peas up 9 percent.
As the top consumer of pulse products, India is going to need more acres long term to keep up with their demand, but it seems like the tariffs may stay in place at least for the first half of 2019. That will likely result in a reduction in planted pulse acreage in the U.S. this year, but pulse growers have worked hard to position themselves to come out the other side of these tariffs and trade tensions in a very strong place.