High hopes for South Dakota pea processing plant

HARROLD, S.D. -- Harlan Smith hopes the new South Dakota Pulse Processors LLC plant, expected to begin operation this summer, will make yellow peas a viable cash crop in central South Dakota.

HARROLD, S.D. -- Harlan Smith hopes the new South Dakota Pulse Processors LLC plant, expected to begin operation this summer, will make yellow peas a viable cash crop in central South Dakota.

"They're good for the soil, and for cow feed," says Smith, a shareholder who farms west of Harrold, S.D. "With the pea processing plant, we hope to have a good market for them."

Construction on the Harrold facility started in 2013 on seven acres of land Smith sold for the plant.

South Dakota Pulse Processors will be a significant new development in the pulse business for South Dakota. Officials initially considered handling chickpeas and other products, but this summer hired Steven L. Brown as a new CEO. Brown helped put the company's initial focus on one pulse crop -- yellow peas.

Brown owns Grace Management Services, which has the management contract and owns a small share in the plant.


Brown, 64, says the plant's staff will start at about 12 and increase to about 20, after anticipated expansions.

The markets

The company will be served by Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern railway, and is focused on a southern market for its peas, including the pet food industry in Missouri and Kansas, and destinations including Mexico and Central America.

The company will also seek U.S. food aid contracts, which ship out of Gulf of Mexico ports. The government contracts will take peas to the Caribbean, Central America and Africa.

Brown says the company also is looking to participate in a $10 million pilot program for the school lunch program.

Brown says the $4.5 million project is funded by 86 investors, primarily South Dakota farmers. Tom Young of Onida, S.D., is board president.

The first phase will be a 12,000-square-foot structure, standing about 30 feet tall. So far, five hopper tanks are up. The company has assembled some equipment for later erection and installation this spring and summer.

Brown says a second phase of construction would focus on products such as pea protein, starch and fiber.


"I'd like to do that within two years," he says.

Within five years, Brown thinks the plant will handle about 50,0000 tons of yellow peas. If realized, that would involve 45,000 acres at yield of about 2,400 pounds per acre, or about 40 bushels per acre. Most of that likely would come from a 100-mile radius. Initially, the plant will buy peas on the spot market but eventually it will be fed by a mix of spot, cash markets and contracts. The company initially isn't specifying particular yellow pea varieties.

Good soil builder

Smith is anxious for all of this to get going. He and his wife, Sharon, farm in association with their son, Travis, and his wife, Natasha. Smith is optimistic about the prospect of a new crop.

"It builds your soils better than soybeans, with nitrogen and nutrients," Smith says.

The Smiths have been raising field peas for the past two years. In 2013, he raised his first 152 acres of the crop and had a yield of 44 bushels an acre. In 2014, he raised 440 acres and got more than 50 bushels an acre.

"You plant them a lot earlier, like spring wheat, and we harvest them the same time as spring wheat -- July 20 in 2014," he says. "That's way ahead of the game."

Ruth Beck, a South Dakota State University Extension agronomy field specialist, in a news release related to the Harrold development, says field peas and other pulse crops have been grown with success in central and western South Dakota for more than 20 years, and often work well with winter wheat rotations.


She says the crop can save on input costs.

"Because pulse crops are legumes, which means when they are inoculated properly, they can fix most of their own nitrogen," she says.

They also have a lot of potential salvage value if poor weather at harvest affects their marketability.

Beck explains green peas are typically for the human edible market while yellow peas are for the feed markets and manufacturing. She says farmers can go to for a list of qualified seed producers.

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