Governor Brian Schweitzer announced today that Montana farmers led the nation in pulse crop acreage in 2011 and will continue to do so in 2012, based on the current U.S. Department of Agriculture Prospective Plantings Report. Pulse crops -- which derive their name from a Latin word meaning "thick," like many of the soups made from these grains -- include peas, lentils, and chickpeas.
"This kind of agriculture value-adding investment is a win-win for Montana," said Governor Schweitzer. "Producers benefit in a number of ways: higher-value crops, more diversified farms, decreased fertilizer costs, and disruption of crop pest cycles. And entering these new markets helps Montana's economy continue to grow." Montana has more than $490 million cash in the bank today.
Montana farmers boosted their acreages of pulse crops significantly in the last decade to nearly half a million acres. The increase has been driven primarily by economics. In addition to favorable prices for pulses and low nitrogen fertilizer requirements, adding these legumes into a crop rotation is beneficial to wheat and barley harvested the following year.
The Montana Department of Agriculture recently authored a paper that discusses the growth of Montana's pulse industry. The paper describes how replacement of fallow in northeastern Montana by pulse crops was estimated to be worth over $100 million to the region's economy in 2010. Fallow refers to cropland left idle for a year in non-irrigated (dryland) cropping systems.
Pulse production is also expanding in areas beyond northeastern Montana. Acreage in the Golden Triangle region of north central Montana increased from 29,000 acres in 2009 to nearly 96,000 acres in 2011. The Montana Department of Agriculture estimates that if pulse production expanded in such a way as to replace 25% of Montana's fallow cropland, the annual benefit to Montana's economy could exceed $240 million.
Other topics covered in the paper include the potential acreage and economic benefit of increased irrigated pulse production, economic impact of pulse processing and merchandising, and pulse market dynamics.