The Case for Pulse Crops

What is a pulse crop you may ask? A pulse crop is an annual legume that with the bacteria Rhizobia, fix nitrogen. It has seeds that are contained in pods. Pulse crops are food for humans and livestock. Examples of pulse crops include: peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dry beans such as red kidney beans and pinto beans. Pulse crops don't get the recognition and use that they deserve. Here is my case for more pulse crop production and consumption.

  1. Nutrition - Humans Pulse crops are high in fiber, high in protein, contain complex carbohydrates, low-fat, low sodium, contain lots of vitamins and minerals, low glycemic index, gluten-free and cholesterol-free. Pulse crops often contain more potassium than bananas. They contain more fiber than whole grains such as wheat and barley. Pulse crops in food products add functionality and enhance nutritional value of the products. New products made using pulses such as pulse fries and low-fat ice cream are emerging into the food markets.
  2. Nutrition - Livestock Many Universities such as North Dakota State University and the University of Nebraska have conducted research on feeding peas to livestock. Peas digest slowly and thoroughly, maintaining stable rumen conditions. Peas have the same energy value as corn with nearly three times the protein. Research done at NDSU showed that peas in a finishing ration improved the tenderness and juiciness of ribeye steaks. Research done at UNL compared cattle fed on a corn ration versus a pea ration fed up to 20% of dry matter intake. The steaks from the cattle on the pea ration were more tender and flavorable than the steaks from the cattle fed the corn ration.
  3. Agronomic Characteristics Pulse crops have a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria called Rhizobia, which can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere in the form of N2 into ammonia, NH3, which is then broken down into ammonium, NH4. Most plant can utilize nitrogen in this form. The Rhizobia bacteria create nodules on the roots of pulse crops. So if you want to see if your pulse crops are fixing nitrogen, look for the nodules. When the plants die or are harvested and the plant material is incorporated into the soil, nitrate NO3 is released via mineralization and nitrification, and is available for plants to utilize. Pulse crops have shown potential as a valuable rotational crop especially in dryland wheat farming production systems. Rather than leaving the ground fallow in-between wheat crops, a pulse crop can be planted. Research done at Montana State University, showed that the benefit of the pulse crops in the rotation may not be noticed until the 3 or 4 year of growing them. In the first couple of years the following wheat crop may show a slight yield and protein decrease compared to following wheat on fallow ground. The MSU research showed that after four legume green manure-wheat cycles, there was a substantial increase in both grain yield and protein compared to after fallow at lower N rates. The nitrogen credit the pulse crops provide after the first couple cycles can save a significant amount on fertilizer costs.
  4. Economics No only can incorporating pulse crops in a dryland wheat rotation end up saving you on fertilizer costs because of the nitrogen credit they provide, there is a high demand for pulse crops. Many countries like India depend on peas and lentils. They are a diet staple. Peas and lentils are a primary protein source for the people of many developing countries. While on a gross revenue per acre basis, pulse crops cannot compete with sugar beets, corn or soybeans, however, some speciality pulses can compete with barley and wheat gross revenues. Farming operations that are diversified, planting more than just one crop, are more sustainable and able to with stand dramatic price fluctuations or natural disaster events.

For more information on Pulse crops visit the following web sites: Northern Pulse Growers Association, US Dry Pea & Lentil Council,