Peas on the Prairie Des­tined for In­dia

In­dian ap­petites are chang­ing US crop mix

The Economic Times - - Global Business -

ALAN BJERGA

Legumes such as dried peas, lentils, kid­ney beans and chick­peas fight ero­sion and re­plen­ish life-giv­ing ni­tro­gen, re­duc­ing the need for chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers. That made Beau An­der­son an early con­vert to pulses on­hiswheatand­bar­ley­far­mout­side Wil­lis­ton, North Dakota, where he addedthem­to­his­cro­pro­ta­tion­more 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 US soy­bean ex­ports to China helped keep pulses in the back­ground. “When we first started grow­ing lentils, our strat­e­gy­wasto­breakevenon­them,” An­der­son says.

For him and many other farm­ers, that cal­cu­lus has changed. The bio­fu­elsin­dus­tryandtheChi­ne­seecon­o­m­yarestag­nant,whichisweigh­ing on de­mand and prices for US corn and soy. And In­dia, an emerg­ing buyer with a huge ap­petite for pulses,is­be­gin­ning­toasser­tit­sel­fonthe world­food­mar­ket.“Thenextcou­ple 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.”

Led by In­dia, global de­mand for US-grown pulses reached $702 mil­lion last year, more than dou­ble that of a decade ago. “Over 57% of our pulses went to In­dia in 2014,” says Chris Wester­gard, a wheat farmer in Dag­mar, Mon­tana, who de­votes about a third of his 5,000 acres to peasan­d­len­tils.“Ial­waysknewthey were a big buyer, but I didn’t re­alise they’d be­come that im­por­tant.”

The US is still a small player in the pulse world, and it has com­pe­ti­tion from other na­tions. Rus­sia and East Africa have seen ex­ports in­crease, and Canada’s ship­ments reached al­most $4.2 bil­lion in 2015.

For US pulses to go main­stream, Amer­i­cans will have to start eat­ing more of them. That’s been a bit of a tough sell: Among their less de­sir­able at­tributes, dried legumes take a long time to cook and give a lot of peo­ple gas, says Marion Nes­tle, a pro­fes­sor of nu­tri­tion at New York Univer­sity. “If there is a sta­ble ex­port mar­ket, farm­ers will grow pulses, but it will take a huge ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign for the pub­lic and for chefs to start us­ing them here.”

Amer­i­can farmer An­der­son ex­pects to be­gin plant­ing soon

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