Pulse Crops Allow for Diversified Income Potential

In 2003 Beau Anderson made a decision that would change the way he farmed. The price of wheat was down; durum was only selling for $3.35 a bushel, but lentils were selling for $.12 per pound. State and federal legislation had recently made it possible for pulse crops to be insured, and so it seemed like the perfect time to try something new.

Anderson is now the Vice President of the Dry Pea & Lentil Council, and it's his thirteenth year as a pulse crop producer, and his ninth year on the Board of Directors for the Northern Pulse Growers Association. Green lentils, dry peas, and chickpeas are in rotation with small grains like flax, spring wheat, and durum wheat on the Anderson farm, and he can attest to the benefits of incorporating pulse crops into his rotation.

"I took over 200 additional acres this year next to a field I already owned that had lentils on it the year before. I planted durum in both fields and the one that had been in rotation had a better yield," stated Anderson. "We don't have to use as much fertilizer, we've seen an increase in the quality of grain, and we no longer struggle to maintain protein levels."

When he initially started producing lentils, he recalls that it took a couple of years to sell the crop; now, everything will most likely be sold by Christmas due to a greater demand. Pulse crops are picking up in popularity in the United States as people discover them as another source of protein. Hummus, made from chickpeas, is one of the fastest growing condiments in the country, for instance. Pulses are also being incorporated as food ingredients into flours, chips and cereals; even off-grade chickpeas effected by frost have potential to be sold to pet food companies.

Still, there are domestic marketing challenges. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't give government assistance to schools for pulses being used as an ingredient, rather than a whole food.

International markets remain strong, and pulse prices have steadily increased over the years. The growing conditions are perfect in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, and including dried peas and lentils into crop rotation has opened up a new potential income for many area producers.

"I feel very strongly that our farm and a handful of others wouldn't exist if not for pulse crops," Anderson commented. "If you've got payments to make and a mortgage to pay, pulse crops have to fit."


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