BILLINGS- With harvest in the books for another year, this week pulse growers met in Billings for Montana Pulse Day hosted by the Northern Pulse Growers Association.
And despite a collapse in market prices brought on mainly by trade disputes with China and India, farmers are still interested in raising pulse crops.
“I think the first thing is people are seeing some of the economic returns, and as they look past that and get a little deeper, they can see there’s some agronomic benefits to raising pulses as well,” said Northern Pulse Growers Association President Chris Westergard of Dagmar. “These complement their whole farming operation and not just their checkbook.”
Montana now leads the nation in pulse crop production, and it’s because more farmers who have traditionally raised wheat are giving pulses a try.
“Northeastern Montana and North Dakota were doing pulses, and my brother and I thought there was a better way to agronomically support the ground,” said Chad Doheny, a pulse grower from Dutton.
“We figured there had to be something to better the soils and not do a wheat-fallow rotation. So, we started experimenting with it. We didn’t have a lot of experience, but we started growing them. And here we are 20 years later with quite a few acres of them now.”
Despite the trade disruptions, U.S. pulses remain in high demand by consumers both at home and around the world. And for good reason.
“They’re high protein and high fiber,” said Gordon Stoner, a pulse grower from Outlook. “I just returned home from a food show. Everyone likes their snack foods. But they want healthy snack foods. Peas, lentils, garbs, chick peas can be part of that solution. So, I really think long-term the outlook for pulse crops is just great.”
Food-processing companies agree. That’s why they’re investing significant capital to build the infrastructure needed to support emerging commodities like pulses.
“Columbia is investing a lot of money in the state of Montana with a non-GMO canola crushing plant in Great Falls,” said Matt Franks with Columbia Grain from Plentywood.
“We’re investing a lot of money in Plentywood building another pulse processing facility. People are starting to grow these things more and more. Everybody is looking for something to make money instead of capturing spring wheat, winter wheat, durum, corn, soybeans or whatever.”
As for the market outlook for pulses in 2019, industry experts say if India has production problems and trade tensions ease with China, U.S. growers could see 15 to 17 cent lentils in the late February and early March timeframe, which would be considerably higher than what they’re worth now.
Next year Montana Pulse Day is headed for Bozeman where a lot of important research is being done on pulse crops at Montana State University.
-Russell Nemetz reporting for MTN News