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Red Lentils

The two main lentil market classes are red and green

  • Red lentil is marketed as whole seed, but 90 to 95 per cent of red lentil is dehulled before it is eaten. 
  • Dehulled lentil is consumed in whole form (footballs) or in split form. It is most commonly eaten as soup in the Mediterranean region or as dhal – a thick sauce in which spices are used as flavouring in south Asia. It is an important source of dietary protein and carbohydrate.

Plant Description

Red lentil plants are short, ranging from 20 to 65 cm (eight to 26 inches) in height; depending on variety and growing conditions.


The first two nodes on the stem develop below or at the soil surface, and are known as scale nodes. Injury to young lentil seedlings by late spring frost, heat canker or wind damage may cause the plant to regrow from a scale node below the soil surface.

The third node on the stem is the usual site of the first leaf development. Lentil seedlings can produce a new node every four to five days under good growing conditions. Just prior to flowering, new leaves will develop a short tendril at the leaf tip.


Leaves that develop above the fifth or sixth node are about five centimetres (two inches) long with nine to 15 leaflets. Lentil plants have an indeterminate growth habit, so they will continue to flower until there is some form of stress, such as lack of moisture, nutrient deficiency, or high temperature. Flower stalks produce one to three flowers, which develop pods. Flowers are self-pollinated. Pods are less than 2.5 cm (one inch) in length and contain one or two seeds. Most of the seed is produced on branches that form on the middle and lower nodes of the main stem.

Seed Description

Because most red lentil is dehulled before consumption, the suitability of new red lentil varieties for secondary processing such as dehulling and splitting is of utmost importance. Dehulling and splitting yields in some processing plants are higher for thicker seeds which may be more desired for specific markets. Plant breeding goals at the University of Saskatchewan, Crop Development Centre (CDC), for red lentil include the development of well-adapted, high yielding varieties that meet market needs.

Nutritional Characteristics

Whole Red Lentils Nutritional Information Per 100 g dry

Amount % Daily Value
Fat 1.0 g 2 %
Carbohydrates 59.1 g 20%<
Total Fibre 14.2 g 57%
Insoluble Fibre 12.4 g  
Soluble Fibre 1.81 g  
Sucrose 1.79 g  
Protein 28.4 g  
Calcium 97.3 mg 10%
Iron 7.3 mg 41%
Potassium 1,135 mg 32%
Vitamin C 0.73 mg 1%
Thiamin 0.34 mg 23%
Riboflavin 0.31 mg 18%
Niacin 1.73 mg 9%
Vitamin B6 0.28 mg 14%
Folate 186 mcg 47%

(adapted from the Pulse Canada publication Canadian Lentils)


Lentil is a cool-season crop with a relatively shallow root system (0.6 m or 2 ft.) and is moderately resistant to high temperature and drought. Lentil has an indeterminate growth habit, and often will continue to flower as long as growing conditions remain favourable for vegetative growth. Lentil does best in soil with pH levels of 6.0 to 8.0 and will not tolerate water-logging, flooding, or soils with high salinity.

Soil Zones

In Saskatchewan, red lentil is best adapted to the Brown and Dark Brown soil zones, but can be grown successfully in the Thin Black soil zone in years without excessive moisture. In the Brown soil zone, performance is best on fallow in medium to fine-textured soils, or on stubble using direct seeding techniques, providing soil moisture reserves are adequate. In the Dark Brown, moist Dark Brown and Thin Black soil zones, red lentil grown on stubble tends to receive the stress needed to reduce the time to maturity, prevent excessive vegetative growth and reduce the risk of damage from early fall frost. There is opportunity to expand red and small green lentil production into the moist Dark Brown and Thin Black soil zones. The more determinate red and small green varieties are better suited to the cooler, moist-lentil growing areas of the province and areas with heavy clay soils. Research is ongoing to determine the best varieties and agronomic practices for lentil production in these areas.

Rotational Considerations

Mixing red and green lentil during the growing season or during handling and storage causes significant downgrading of the crop. Experienced lentil growers refrain from growing red and green lentil in rotation in the same field to avoid class contamination from volunteer plants, and designate fields for one colour only. This is especially true of red and small green classes, which are impossible to separate during cleaning.

Red lentil production is most successful when grown in rotation with cereals. Crop rotation research conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Swift Current, shows yields of cereal crops grown on stubble were best following lentil or pea crops. Lentil rooting depth was found to be about 0.6 m (2 ft.). This allows the following wheat crop, with a rooting depth to 1.8 m (6 ft.), to extract water from a greater depth and produce higher yield and protein.

Red lentil is susceptible to ascochyta blight and anthracnose, and careful consideration must be given to crop rotation to reduce the risk of these diseases. Ascochyta blight is a chronic problem; avoid lentil production more frequently than one in four years in the same field, especially in areas where anthracnose is a problem, and avoid seeding lentil in fields adjacent to lentil stubble, as anthracnose is easily transferred on wind-blown dust and residue. Lentil seedling diseases, such as root rots and seedling blights, are more common in fields where pulse crops have been grown more frequently. Anthracnose can be a major cause of root rot in lentil. Red lentil is also susceptible to Anthracnose root rot.

Sclerotinia stem rot may be a problem if lentil follows other susceptible broadleaf crops, such as canola, sunflower, mustard or pea. Volunteer flax, canola, or mustard may be difficult to control in lentil. Volunteer cereals, such as barley or durum wheat, are difficult to clean from red lentil seed and should be controlled in the field.

Red lentil is a very poor competitor to weeds, so selection of a mostly weed-free field is essential, as few in-crop herbicides are registered for use. Clearfield varieties may provide a better opportunity to control weeds unless Group 2 resistant weeds are present. Perennial weeds, such as Canada thistle and sow thistle, should be controlled in the years prior to lentil production. Red lentil is susceptible to the soil residues of some herbicides used in previous years. It is important to maintain herbicide records each year and to avoid seeding lentil in fields treated with residual herbicides. Red lentil is also susceptible to aphanomyces root rot.

Refer to the Guide to Crop Protection, which contains more information about herbicides and their soil residual properties.


Red lentil varieties have brown, grey, tan or pale green seed coats with red cotyledons. CDC Impact and CDC Imperial were the first two Clearfield® lentil varieties released in Canada. Clearfield varieties may mature earlier compared to other varieties because the plants may not be injured when treated with herbicide.

Seed coat colour has some influence on red lentil quality, particularly the ability to withstand weathering in years with prolonged periods of wet weather at maturity. Under those conditions, varieties with grey seed coats show less weathering damage.


The use of high-quality seed is extremely important for successful red lentil production. It is important to have seed tested by a seed-testing laboratory for germination, purity and seed-borne disease. Seed-borne diseases, such as ascochyta blight and botrytis, can reduce seedling vigour and lead to yield and quality losses.

Lentil seed is susceptible to mechanical damage during harvest, handling or seeding operations. Dry seed (less than 12 per cent moisture) is brittle and can crack or chip, leading to reduced germination.

Firm, weed-free seedbeds on well-drained soils are best for red lentil production. Stony fields should be avoided or rolled after seeding to bury loose stones and smooth soil ridges to prevent problems at harvest. The recommended seeding depth for lentil is three to eight cm (one to three in.) The desired plant population for lentil is 130/m² (12/ft.²). Crop stands of this density provide better competition against weeds and will result in higher yields. Crop stands of greater density may increase the risk of foliar diseases, especially in wetter areas. Wider row spacing can be used in high-moisture regions to reduce the risk of a thick crop canopy leading to poor pod set, foliar disease development, and lodging.

Seeding Rate

The optimum seeding rate for each seed lot depends on its seed size. For example, CDC Impact has an average seed size of 34 g/1,000 seeds. The following formula should be used to determine the intended target seeding rate for individual seed lots.

Seeding rate (lb/acre) = (target # plants/ft.2 x 1,000 seed wt. g) x 10
      % field emergence or survival
Example: CDC Impact  (12 plants/ft² x 34 g) x 10 = 43 lb./ac. seeding rate

Seeding should begin when the average soil temperature at depth of seeding is greater than 5 C and the soil is not excessively wet. Lentil seedlings can withstand some late spring frost. Even if the frost is severe enough to kill the main shoot, the lentil plant can re-grow from one of the scale nodes at or below the soil surface. Early seeding can help avoid flower blast caused by high temperatures during flowering and improve the chance to harvest in August when the seed moisture content is at or below 13 per cent. Early seeding may also increase the height and size of the plant at time of first bloom, allowing the lowermost pods to develop farther above ground to ease harvest.


Red lentil inoculated with the proper Rhizobium strain is able to fix a significant portion of its nitrogen requirement from air in the soil. For this to occur, the seed or the soil surrounding the seed must be inoculated or treated with an inoculant formulated for lentil that contains compatible Rhizobium bacteria. For more information on red lentil inoculation, please see Inoculation of Pulse Crops.


A properly conducted soil test can produce excellent guidelines for red lentil fertility needs. Generally, nitrogen fertilizer application is not required if nitrogen fixation is optimized. When properly inoculated with the appropriate Rhizobium inoculant, lentil can derive 70 per cent or more of its nitrogen requirement through fixation in good growing conditions. The remaining nitrogen comes from what is available in the soil at seeding, plus nitrogen released from the soil during the growing season.

Land Rolling

Red lentil fields should be rolled to provide a smooth and level surface for harvest. Land rolling can be done before the crop emerges, but this practice could increase soil erosion if the soil surface is dry. Research indicates that land rolling after crop emergence can be successfully completed up to the five-to-seven node stage, without significant yield loss. Land rolling past this stage can damage plants, increase the spread of foliar diseases and reduce yield. If rolling occurs after crop emergence, best results are obtained if done when plants are slightly wilted and the soil surface is dry. Rolling should not be done on wet soils or when the crop is damp or stressed by extreme heat, frost, or herbicide application.

For more information on land rolling pulse crops, consult the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development publication Land Rolling Guidelines for Pulse Crops in Western Canada.


A desiccant used to burn off crop foliage and weeds can reduce the time from maturity to harvest and reduce some harvesting problems. See the Guide to Crop Protection for desiccants registered for use on lentil. Desiccants do not speed maturity of the crop, so treatment is made at the same time that swathing would occur. It should be applied when approximately 30 per cent of the lowermost pods are tan-coloured, and their seeds rattle when shaken.

Glyphosate is not a desiccant, but a pre-harvest application of glyphosate is registered in lentil for control of perennial weeds. It may provide some dry-down effect if weather conditions are warm and dry. Do not apply glyphosate to crops to be used for planting seed, because it may cause uneven germination and abnormal seedling development. lentil maturity is reached when seeds are 30 per cent moisture content or less.


The average yield of red lentil in Saskatchewan is approximately 1,905 to 2,129 kg/ha (1,700 - 1,900 lb./ac.). Pick-up reels, lifter guards, floating or flexible headers, and air reels can be added to harvest equipment to ease the handling of short-statured, tangled or lodged crops. Fields that were land rolled are easier to harvest, as the swather or combine cutterbar must be operated very close to the ground. A slower ground speed may also be required when harvesting red lentil due to their short plant height.

Swathing should occur when about 30 per cent of the lowermost pods turn tan, and their seeds rattle. Shattering may be reduced by swathing under conditions of higher humidity. Lentil swaths are prone to wind damage.

Lentil can be straight-cut using a combine equipped with a flex header, or with a pick-up reel and vine lifters when seeds and pods are fully mature, or after desiccation. Excessively dry seed will chip and peel during threshing. It is preferable to thresh at about 14 to 16 per cent moisture and use aeration to dry the sample to 13 per cent for safe storage. The red lentil splitting industry prefers product at moisture content levels below 13 per cent to improve the efficiency in their splitting plant. Check with your red lentil buyer for specific seed moisture content requirements.

Low cylinder or rotor speeds are required to reduce seed chipping and breaking during combining. Cylinder speeds of 250 to 500 RPM are normally used, depending on cylinder diameter and moisture content of the lentil seeds. Combine augers and grain augers should be operated at low speeds to reduce seed damage.

Storage and Handling

Red lentil seed that is mixed with green weed seeds and other high-moisture materials should be cleaned as soon as possible to prevent heating. Moisture levels up to 13 per cent and temperatures below 15 C are considered safe for red lentil. The use of aeration fans to reduce moisture and temperature will improve storage. If supplemental heat drying is necessary, air temperatures should not exceed 45 C to preserve germination, and the sample should not be dried more than four to five percentage points per pass through the dryer.

Red lentil should be stored in dry, dark conditions. Seed from successive years should not be mixed, as the oldest seed will cause a downgrading of the entire sample. Mixing varieties and lots from different years may also affect milling quality.

Seed is susceptible to increased chipping and peeling if handled in temperatures colder than -20 C. For more information on storing, handling and grading of lentil, consult the Saskatchewan Pulse Grower's Pulse Production Manual.

Marketing and Opportunities

A list of red lentil buyers and marketers is available on the Special Crop Marketing Company Listing page. Several marketing companies offer production contracts for red lentil.

Most lentil is consumed in the region of production, except for Australia and North America. Canada is the largest red lentil exporter.

The major importing countries are India, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Canada has been successful in exporting red lentil to countries in the Mediterranean region. A significant growth opportunity exists for Canada in the red lentil market, as Turkey's production and exports have trended lower. In some years, Turkey is an important importer of red lentil from Canada. The type and scale of technology used to dehull and split red lentil can be very different from market to market. Millers prefer to use varieties that maximize milling efficiency in their specific technology.

Recently, secondary processing capacity within Canada has expanded, providing export of high-quality, already-split red lentil to world markets.

Lentil Production

The majority of world lentil production and trade is in red lentil. Red lentil seed coat colour can vary from pale green to grey, brown, tan or black. Cotyledon (seed leaf) colour of dehulled seeds is reddish orange.

A member of the legume family (Leguminosae), lentil can supply a significant part of its nitrogen requirement by fixing nitrogen from the air when inoculated with the appropriate rhizobial inoculant.

For commercial production of red lentil in Western Canada, see the most recent Specialty Crop Report. The five-year average yield is 1,711 kg/ha (1,527 lb./ac.), and the bushel weight of red lentil is 60 pounds.

Economics of Production

The Crop Planning Guide includes information on projected costs of production and expected returns of red lentil in Saskatchewan.


Red Lentil (Lens culinaris L.) was first grown in southwest Asia around 7,000 BCE in the area that is now southern Turkey and northern Syria. It is best adapted to the cooler temperate zones of the world, or the winter season in Mediterranean climates.

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