Kyle Groh says his ancestors, who were Germans from Russia, began growing wheat in Montana after “the Tsar kicked them out” of Russia. For generations, wheat was all they grew in Montana.
Groh, 33, a fourth-generation farmer from Circle, Mont., still grows wheat, but pulse crops are increasingly important to his farming operation.
“It’s become a whole new game. The pulses have really changed things,” says Groh who planted more pulse acres than usual — and profitably so — in 2016.
Groh talked with Agweek Monday at the annual convention of the Northern Pulse Growers Association. More than 200 people had preregistered for the event, and more than 300 are expected to attend the two-day event, which ends Tuesday.
Attendance is unusually strong this year, which reflects farmers’ rising interest in pulses, especially in eastern Montana, where wheat has traditionally been the dominant crop. But poor wheat prices are encouraging farmers there to consider pulse crops, which fare well in semi-arid eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Crop prices in general are poor, boosting pulses’ appeal, says Jerry Schillinger, another Circle, Mont., farmer and president of the Northern Pulse Growers Association.
“They’re really one of the few bright spots,” he says of pulses.
Growing consumer demand for pulses help their price hold up relatively well. Consumers increasingly view pulses — the name comes from an ancient Greek word for porridge and include a dozen crops such as lentils, dry beans and chickpeas — as healthy and nutritious.
The United Nations declared 2016 as International Year of Pulses, one sign of their increased prominence.
North Dakota and Montana traditionally lead the nation in pulse production, albeit on far fewer acres than major crops such as wheat and corn. So, most of the people who attend the Minot convention are from the two states.
But pulses’ growing presence in North Dakota and Montana is drawing more outside interest.
One example: Salem, Ore.-based West Coast Companies is a first-time exhibitor at the conference. The company recently established an office in Great Falls, Mont., in an effort to take greater advantage of pulses in Montana and North Dakota.
“We think there’s a real opportunity,” says Brant Hayden, president of West Coast Agricultural Construction Co., one arm of West Coast Companies. The family business is involved in the sale and distribution of processing, handling, packaging and storage equipment. It handles many commodities, with 40 to 60 percent of its business coming from pulses, Hayden estimates.
But pulses, like other crops, face challenges, including weeds, insects and crop diseases.
Brian Jenks, North Dakota State University weed scientist, Julie Pasche, NDSU plant pathologist, and T.J. Prochaska, NDSU crop protection specialist, talked about trends, issues and problems posed by pests and disease.
For instance, Jenks warned of the growing resistance of Russian thistle, a weed, to glyphosate, the widely used herbicide, and the threat that poses to pulses and other crops.
The pulse industry’s marketing and public policy positions will be discussed Tuesday by Jessie Hunter, domestic marketing director of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and Tim McGreevy, the council’s CEO.
Their comments, as well as other highlights of the show and a closer look at the pulse industry’s present and future, will be featured in a future Agweek cover story.
Source: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek
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