A Background: South Dakota Pulse Growers, Inc.
The South Dakota Pulse Growers, Inc. (SDPGI) was formed in 1992 by a small group of farm producers in central South Dakota who were interested in pursuing the introduction of new or alternative crops into this area in order to improve their crop rotation options. Crop rotation is an environmentally sound farm production practice that allows farmers to use diversity to break the cycle of weeds and diseases.
The organization adopted a set of bylaws and was incorporated as a non profit in the state of South Dakota in 1992. The primary goal of the organization is to educate farmers in pulse crop production through newsletters and education programs.
After incorporation, the organization recognized a need for local research efforts to improve the production tools available to South Dakota farmers. Therefore they contacted SDSU and asked that variety trials be initiated throughout the areas of the state where pulse crops were adapted. Variety trials were initiated in a number of locations across the north, central and western regions of South Dakota by the West River Ag Research Center. The largest trials are located at Wall and Selby, SD. Following the initiation of variety trials was the initiation of extensive herbicide and fungicide trials.
The Pulse Growers found a need to use the IR-4 program, a minor use pesticide registration program funded through USDA, to lobby for registrations of pesticides that would give farmers growing pulse crops the production tools they need to successfully produce these crops. They also lobbied the SD Dept. of Ag. and SDSU to help facilitate these registrations.
Recently it has come to the organizations attention that another hurdle for farmers to overcome is the wide fluctuations in commodity price that can occur year to year in pulse crops. Pulse crops, unlike wheat, soybeans and corn were not included in the US government's 1995 Farm Bill. Where many of the traditional crops had "price stabilization" programs for growers, pulse crops had none. Thus the 1995 Farm Bill had the unintentional effect of discouraging crop rotation and diversification. Also it was difficult for farmers to obtain any type of competitive crop insurance until they had grown pulse crops for a number of years and had "proven yields". These two concerns added up to making it a risky undertaking for farmers to try growing pulse crops, although there are a number of growers that grew them successfully in SD despite these handicaps. The SD Pulse Growers felt these were important issues that needed to be dealt with by the organization. Therefore prior to the passage of the 2002 US Farm Bill, The South Dakota Pulse Growers joined The US Dry Pea & Lentil Association (USDP&LA) and The ND Dry Pea & Lentil Association (NDDP&LA) in efforts to educate congress on the benefits of including field peas, chickpeas and lentils in the 2002 US Farm Bill and thus giving farmers some income stability when choosing to include these crops on their farms. A direct result of the efforts of these grower associations was that the 2002 US Farm Bill did include LDP's or price supports for field peas, lentils and small chickpeas.
The SDPGI has also written letters to encourage The USDA Risk Management Division to ease up on their rules requiring farmers have three or four years of proven yields on any certain field before they can obtain crop insurance. In addition to this the SDPGI is working with state FSA officials to see if NAP crop insurance levels can be raised for beginning pulse producers to levels more in line with realistic yields.
Another goal of the group is to encourage development of facilities to process these commodities with in the state. Currently only feed or seed is processed in SD. Most of the field peas and chickpeas grown for the human edible markets are processed out of state.
Along with the other activities, each year since 1992, the group has used membership dollars to sponsor organized educational programs and produce newsletters, to educate and inform producers, extension and industry personnel. Therefore in the years since its inception, the SDPGI, although consisting of a small group of producers with a very part-time executive officer, has been active in encouraging diversification of cropping systems in the state of SD.
Nutritionally, field peas, lentils and chickpeas provide a locally produced, low cost and low fat source of protein. They are also attractive to producers because they form a symbiotic relationship with soil rhizobia to produce their own nitrogen. This reduces input costs for producers.
In 2004 there were upwards of 13,000 Acres of field peas, chickpeas and lentils grown in South Dakota. Farmers who grew these crops in 2004 now have full bins and LDP payments in the bank, where soybean and corn fields stand and especially in the northern areas of the state, are in dire need of heat units to obtain average yields this year. This is a year where diversification and specifically, encouragement of pulse crop production in SD, has benefited South Dakota producers and in turn, South Dakota.
Prepared for The SD Food Nutrition Coordinating Committee, September 29, 2004 by Ruth Beck, Executive Officer, The SDPGI, 1992-2012.