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Pulses campaign may benefit Sask

Posted by Flaman Agriculture Nov 12, 2015

12 Nov 2015
The StarPhoenix

Pulses campaign may benefit Sask

Farmers look to boost market share
     A yearlong celebration of pulse crops that began this week could benefit Saskatchewan, which has become the world’s largest lentil producer and a significant contributor to Canada’s $3-billion pulse crop industry.
     International Year of Pulses was launched Tuesday in Rome by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency dedicated to eradicating world hunger. The global event is intended to raise awareness about pulses’ importance to health, environmental sustainability and global food security. But it may also create new opportunities for Saskatchewan farmers.
     “It is about winning the hearts and minds and stomachs of consumers, not just in the traditional parts of the world that have eaten pulses for many years, but in the whole world,” said Pulse Canada chair Lee Moats, who has been growing pulses at Riceton, near Regina, since 1991.
     “If you look at North America, we grow a lot of pulses, but we don’t consume that many. From a grower’s standpoint, this is about increasing the market opportunity.”
     Saskatchewan was not always a global leader in pulse production. In the first half of the 20th century, the province’s agricultural industry was dominated by cereals such as wheat and barley. By the 1960s, farmers were experimenting with oilseeds and pulses, a family that includes lentils, peas, chickpeas and beans. According to University of Saskatchewan plant scientist Bert Vandenberg, the crops’ benefits were readily apparent.
     “Pulse crops fix nitrogen, and there’s substantial benefits that come with that in crop rotation,” he said. “Plus, you’re breaking disease cycles. It’s basically going back to basic farming principles that have been known for 10,000 years.”
     Because pulses were not controlled by the nowdefunct Canadian Wheat Board, farmers could sell them as a cash crop.
     The upshot is that Saskatchewan pulse production increased dramatically, from about 45,000 acres in the early 1980s to four million acres, or 10 per cent of the province’s arable land, in 2015, Vandenberg said.
     More production conferred yet more benefits on Saskatchewan producers.
     Because Saskatchewan grows half the world’s lentils, production problems at home and shortages abroad both guarantee higher prices, Vandenberg said.
     “It’s a hedge both ways,” he added.
     Moats, who is also a director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, hopes International Year of Pulses will further expand the market for Saskatchewan pulses.
     While farmers in the province are familiar with the protein-rich crops’ benefits, the bulk of their pulses are exported to Turkey, India, Bangladesh and other foreign markets.
     A broad conversation about global food production, one that taps into concerns about health and sustainability, could help the North American market grow, Moats said.
     “We think that International Year will bring attention to these crops, why consumers should be interested in them and how to use them and incorporate them into their diets. International Year gives (us) a platform at a whole new level.”
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