As major producers of lentils, peas, beans and other pulse crops, North Dakota farmers have their fingers on the pulse of the world.
With the United Nations declaring 2016 as the International Year of Pulses, North Dakota producers and organizations are spreading the word about the many benefits of growing and eating pulse crops, which are grain legumes. The state is a major producer of pulses, a group that consists of 12 different kinds of crops including dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas and lentils. North Dakota ranks No. 1 for dry edible beans and dry pea production, as well as No. 2 for lentils.
Pulses are full of nutritional benefits, says Shannon Berndt, executive director of Northern Pulse Growers Association.
“They are a great source of protein, fiber, iron and are high in antioxidants,” she says. “As well as being healthy, pulses are extremely versatile. They can be consumed as a whole food or included in products through pulse flours, proteins or starches.”
Well-known pulse dishes are hummus and falafel, which use chickpeas. However, pulses can be found in baked goods, pasta, snacks and beverages, adding nutritional value.
“Pulses are very versatile,” says Natsuki Fujiwara, food scientist at Northern Crops Institutes. “One interesting example is making a whipping cream from water that pulses were cooked in. It whips up just like cream and is 100 percent vegan. It has a very neutral flavor as well.”
Economically, pulse crops are flourishing both nationally and in international export markets. Together, North Dakota and Montana make up the largest pulse-production region in the nation at 80 percent.
“Even though the production scale is much smaller compared to the other major crops, it has a great value to producers due to increasing cash prices along with the demand from export markets such as India, Southeast Asia and Latin America,” Fujiwara says.
She adds, “In the domestic market, the significance of pulses is on the rise due to niche markets and the potential specialty market for younger generations such as millennials who are a driving force of the food market and tend to have a unique perspective on their diet. In contrast, the export market tends to evolve among developing countries where the growing middle class is looking for a nutrient-rich diet.”
Pulse crops are also sustainable to grow, making them a good option for rotational crops.
“Pulses provide many agronomic benefits to producers, including improving soil and providing a break in disease cycles. And they are nitrogen fixing,” Berndt says. “Research has shown that including pulses in a rotation can have significant increases on yields of subsequent crops.”
“They use less natural resources, too,” Fujiwara adds.