Des­tined for New Delhi

▶ ▶ In­dian ap­petites are start­ing to sway the U.S. crop mix ▶ ▶ “It will have a real im­pact on what farm­ers choose to grow”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Focus On / Agriculture -

Farm­ing on the North­ern Plains is a never-end­ing bat­tle to keep the soil alive and in place. Long, dry win­ters kill pre­cious or­gan­isms; the ever-present wind blows dirt across the prairie. Cer­tain crops can help, es­pe­cially pulses. Legumes such as dried peas, lentils, kid­ney beans, and chick­peas fight ero­sion and re­plen­ish life-giv­ing ni­tro­gen, re­duc­ing the need for chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers. That made Beau An­der­son an early con­vert to pulses on his wheat and bar­ley farm out­side Wil­lis­ton, N.D., where he added them to his crop ro­ta­tion more than a decade ago.

There wasn’t much money in it then. Pulses are high in pro­tein and low in fat, but Amer­i­cans don’t eat a lot of them. Ex­pand­ing de­mand for corn ethanol and surg­ing U.S. soy­bean ex­ports to China helped keep pulses in the back­ground. “When we first started grow­ing lentils, our strat­egy was to break even on them,” An­der­son says.

For him and many other farm­ers, that cal­cu­lus has changed. The bio­fu­els in­dus­try and the Chi­nese econ­omy are stag­nant, weigh­ing on de­mand for U.S. corn and soy. And In­dia, an emerg­ing buyer with a huge ap­petite for pulses, is be­gin­ning to as­sert it­self on the world food mar­ket. “The next cou­ple decades could be­long to In­dia,” says Erik Nor­land, an econ­o­mist with the Chicago Mer­can­tile Ex­change. “It will have a real im­pact on what farm­ers choose to grow and on what the world eats.”

In­dia’s an­nual food im­ports have risen 61 per­cent since 2010, to $22.6 bil­lion, and there’s more room to grow. Its pop­u­la­tion is ex­pand­ing at a rate of 1.2 per­cent per year, com­pared with 0.7 per­cent for the U.S. In­di­ans eat 17 per­cent fewer calo­ries per day than the world av­er­age, a deficit that Nor­land projects will shrink as the na­tion be­comes more pros­per­ous and im­ported food be­comes more abun­dant and af­ford­able.

Led by In­dia, global de­mand for U.S.grown pulses reached $702 mil­lion last year, more than dou­ble that of a decade ago. Pulses won’t over­take tra­di­tional Amer­i­can cash crops any­time soon, if ever: In 2015, U.S. farm­ers ded­i­cated 88 mil­lion acres to corn pro­duc­tion and less than 2 mil­lion acres to peas and

In 2011, In­di­ans ate a daily av­er­age of 1,394

calo­ries of grain per capita, com­pared with

29 calo­ries of meat

Com­pound an­nual growth rate of U.S. pulse ex­ports to In­dia from 2005 to 2015 An­der­son

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