Outlook improves for lentils, dry peas
World markets haven't cooperated with U.S. pulse crop farmers. But prices have been improving recently.
This hasn't been an an easy year for pulse crops. But there's still reason to believe in them, said Beau Anderson, a Williston, N.D., farmer and past chairman of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council.
"The prices of lentils are improving, and it sounds like yellow pea prices are moving their way up," Anderson said. "The world is getting concerned about food because there's drought in quite a few regions."
In his immediate area, a key producer of lentils and dry beans, 2020 "pulse crops were good. The quality was decent," he said.
Some of this year's harvested pulse crop was sold under contract, but some remains and potentially can be sold at higher prices, he said.
An ongoing trade war with India, the world's largest consumer of pulses, hurt demand for U.S. pulses. So did the trade war with China, another big buyer.
On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some U.S. consumers to buy and eat more pulses.
Poor prices this spring caused many producers in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, where the climate favors the crops, to plant less lentils and dry peas overall. Nationally, U.S. farmers planted 1 million dry pea acres, down from 1.1 million acres in 2019, with lentil acres rising from 486,000 to 518,000 acres this year, according to the Oct. 9 crop production report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service. The report didn't include state-by-state acreage totals.
Acreage for chickpeas, another major pulse crop, plunged from 451,000 acres in 2019 to 254,000 acres this year, according to the report.
Yields were mixed. The average U.S. dry pea yield fell to 1.95 hundredweight per acre in 2020 from 2.2 hundredweight per acre in 2019, while the average U.S. lentil yield rose to 1.34 hundredweight per acre in 2020 from 1.25 hundredweight per acre in 2019.
Growing conditions varied this season, in some cases greatly, said Anderson, who farms in northwest North Dakota.
"In our area, the growing season was a little odd. The crop got put in really easy, no problems," he said. "It was really dry to start with, then we got a little rain around Memorial Day weekend. And then July was pretty good to us."
Legumes are a huge family of plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. Pulses are part of the legume family, but are grown for their dried seed. Lentils, dried peas and chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are among the common kinds of pulses, which are praised by nutritionists for being high in protein and low in fat, as well as being affordable. Long popular in some foreign countries, pulses have drawn greater attention in the United States, too.
Given that, there's still reason to think that pulse crop, despite the ups and downs found in all crops, have a bright future, Anderson said.