Cantwell Urges Pulse Health Initiative to Be Top Priority in Upcoming Farm Bill

Initiative’s grants would support research of health and nutritional benefits of peas, lentils, chickpeas, and lead to more sales, local jobs

SPOKANE VALLEY, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged leaders on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to make the ‘Pulse Health Initiative’ a top priority in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill as the legislation moves through the Senate. In a letter to the committee, Cantwell noted that the initiative would support research into the health and nutritional benefits of pulse crops, which include peas, lentils and chickpeas, and help increase public demand for the crops and create jobs.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry passed the Farm Bill on April 26, which included the ‘Pulse Health Initiative.’ The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later in June.

“More peas, lentils and chickpeas equal more jobs in Washington state, and not just on farms,” Cantwell said. “It would mean more jobs at processing plants, ports and farm supply companies. With the right investments, acreage of chickpeas, peas and lentils could double in the next eight years and support even more jobs in the state.”

The Pulse Health Initiative would authorize research grants for five years at $25 million per year. The research would look into the health and nutrition benefits of pulse crops, including their ability to reduce obesity and associated chronic disease. The initiative would support technical expertise to help food companies use nutrient-dense pulse crops in their products as well as establish an educational program to encourage the consumption and production of pulse crops.

The Pulse Health Initiative could double pulse crop production nationwide over the next 8 years. In Washington, total farmed acres could more than double over the next 5 to 10 years, according to industry estimates.

Washington state is the top chickpea producer in the nation and third in the nation for pea and lentil production and stands to greatly benefit from increased demand for pulse crops. Washington has over 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops and 22 processors employing over 300 people in Eastern Washington. Pulse crop production in Washington state supports thousands of jobs – including those in transportation, port facilities, equipment manufacturers, crop advisors, insurance, supplies and other services.

The value of pulse crop shipments handled via the Columbia-Snake River System reached nearly $50 million in 2011 – up from just over $30 million in 2001. The value of pulse crop shipments handled via the Seattle/Tacoma Port District reached nearly $130 million in 2011 – up from roughly $5 million in 2001.

Chickpea acreage in Washington state has exploded from less than 10,000 acres in the year 2000 to nearly 80,000 acres in 2012. A main driver of increased demand for chickpeas in the last decade has been increased demand for hummus. Retail sales of hummus are projected to increase to $250 million in 2013, up from $5 million in 1997. This increase has supported thousands of jobs in Washington state, including 45 at Spokane Seed Company.

The proposed 2012 Farm Bill contains other provisions important to Washington state’s agriculture economy. These include continued investment in export promotion programs and specialty crops – both programs Cantwell has strongly supported to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive.

In a letter sent April 19th to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, Cantwell and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) export promotion programs must be maintained at current levels in the next farm bill. USDA export promotion programs including the Market Access Program (MAP), Foreign Market Development Program, the Emerging Markets Program, and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program all help sell American products in foreign markets. Cantwell, a longtime supporter of MAP, has led past Senate letters in support of the program.

On April 2nd, Cantwell signed onto a bipartisan letter signed by 31 other Senators to Stabenow and Roberts urging the committee to “build on the strong foundation the 2008 Farm Bill created for specialty crop producers across the country.” Cantwell has long been a supporter of the specialty crop program and has fought for adequate funding for the program as a member of the Senate Finance Committee. She fought to make the 2007 Farm Bill – passed in May 2008 – the first to meaningfully address the specialty crops section of agriculture.

Washington state grows more than 250 specialty crops and ranks number one in production in the nation for 10 commodities, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, and hops. Washington state is also a top exporter of agricultural goods. Nearly $11 billion in food and agricultural products were exported through Washington ports in 2009, the third largest total in the U.S.

Today Cantwell was joined by local businesses, farmers and researchers at Spokane Seed Company, a local processor of pulse crops which employs 45 people. With her were Peter Johnstone, CEO of Spokane Seed Co.; Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council; Andrew Fontaine, V.P. Sales and Marketing at Spokane Seed Co.; and Ralph Cavalieri, Director of the Agriculture Research Center at Washington State University.

The letter’s complete text follows:

The Honorable Debbie Stabenow             The Honorable Pat Roberts
Chairwoman                                       Ranking Member
Senate Agriculture Committee                Senate Agriculture Committee
328 Russell Senate Office Building          328 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510                         Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts:

I write in support of the Pulse Health Initiative and thank you for including this important jobs provision in the Agriculture Committee’s farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), which was introduced on May 24th.  I urge your continued support for the Initiative during Senate debate on the bill and in the eventual conference negotiations with the House of Representatives. 

The Pulse Health Initiative will support research into the many positive aspects of pulse crops that have yet to be fully explored.  Pulse crops, including chickpeas, lentils and dry peas, are a good source of dietary fiber, protein and folate.  Although we know that pulse crops have the potential to play a big role in reducing the instances of chronic diseases, research quantifying a more complete link between pulse crops and health is lacking.

In addition to quantifying the health and nutritional benefits of pulse crops, the Initiative will expand research in plant genetics and genomics. This research should improve productivity and increase the nutrient value of pulse crops through the development of new plant strains that are easier to grow and have traits that will lead to expanded markets, such as varieties that are easier to use in food preparation.

Increased demand for pulse crops resulting from this research authorized by the Pulse Health Initiative has the potential to greatly expand the acreage planted in pulse crops. Increased acreage as a result of increased demand would mean more options for farmers and more jobs for processors who are often based in rural areas.

There is a great deal of potential for pulse crops to become a bigger food source for Americans, which will lead to more job opportunities for farmers and processors.    As an example, hummus sales have grown from almost nothing in 1995 to nearly $200 million today, based at least partially on the healthful attributes of chickpeas.  The Pulse Health Initiative promises similar success stories for these crops with the potential to expand foreign and domestic markets even further, creating jobs here at home.

Please support the retention of the Pulse Health Initiative throughout the continued process of getting the next farm bill passed into law.


Maria Cantwell
United States Senator