Farm Bill could affect Palouse ‘pulse’ growers

By:  Kelli Hadley
Source: Moscow Pullman Daily News

The 2012 Farm Bill passed by the U.S. Senate Thursday contains provisions that, if enacted, would likely affect those in the business of growing and researching pulse crops in Washington.

Pulse crops include dry beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, and are a vegetable source that's been under researched for many years, said Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council.

One part of the Farm Bill, now under consideration by the U.S. House, is the Pulse Health Initiative, which would authorize research grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture of $25 million each year until 2017. The research would try to address obesity and overpopulation issues, as well as make pulse crops more functional for every day consumption, McGreevy said.

"If we're going to feed an additional $3 billion people in the next 40 years, we'll have to come up with ways to provide inexpensive, nutrient-dense foods," McGreevy said. "Given what pulse crops bring to the table, they've really been an oversight compared to research done on cereal grains."

Grant money through the 2012 Farm Bill would be open to scientists all over the U.S. and distributed on a competitive basis. Mike Kahn, associate director of WSU's agricultural research center, said WSU received grant money from the Specialty Crop Initiative passed in the 2008 Farm Bill, and has "competed very well" in specialty crop research endeavors since then. If the Pulse Health Initiative is approved through the 2012 Farm Bill, Kahn said WSU will likely apply for grant money.

Pulse crops in schools

Washington is the third-leading producer of pulse crops in the nation and is the leading producer of chickpeas, followed by Idaho, McGreevy said. It is estimated that the pulse crop acreage in Washington could more than double in the next five to 10 years.

An amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill, approved by the Senate on Wednesday, would launch a pilot program through 2017 using $10 million to introduce more pulse crops into school breakfasts and lunches.

The amendment, backed by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., aims to highlight the nutritional benefits of pulse crops, such as high levels of potassium and fiber.

"Those are two nutrients that have been identified by the USDA as those that need to be increased for children in particular," said Janeen Heath, a spokeswoman for Cantwell. "Right now there's a lot of versatility in pulse crops, like grinding up peas into powder that can be used for things like bread and cookies, and using chickpeas for hummus."

If passed, Heath said the USDA would come up with more specifics on which schools in the nation would be part of the pilot program. The pulse crops would be purchased by USDA and then distributed to the school meal systems. An evaluation would take place at the end of the pilot program to determine student attitudes and trends toward the pulse crops.

"We want to find out how we can use them and improve their functionality in the school system to get kids to consume pulse crops in their diet," McGreevy said. "Especially in the heat-and-serve model that we've moved toward."

The 2012 Farm Bill is expected to be considered by the House of Representatives sometime in July, McGreevy said.