U.S. health initiative ignites excitement in pulse industry

Peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas received a big boost in the Senate version of the 2012 U.S. farm bill.

“For the pulse crops, there is a lot of really good provisions here in this bill on a lot of levels,” said Tim McGreevy, chief executive officer of the American Pulse Association.

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill last week, which establishes national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy for the next five years.

The House of Representatives, which along with the Senate forms the two arms of the U.S. Congress, is expected to have its agriculture committee start work on its version of a new farm bill in mid-July.

The two houses then have to develop with a compromise bill to vote on before it goes to the White House.

Included in the Senate bill are two policies that McGreevy said will help expand the market for pulse crops grown in the United States and Canada if they make it through to the final version, which must still be approved by the House of Representatives and president Barack Obama.

One is the Pulse Health Initiative, which authorizes research grants of $25 million per year over the next five years for research exploring the health and nutrition benefits of pulses.

It would be a sizeable increase over the less than $3 million now spent annually on pulse research in the U.S.

“We’re confident that these crops will perform quite well, but we just don’t have much science to back it up,” said McGreevy.

The other main focus will be to significantly improve pulse crops’ productive capabilities.

“The truth is that yields on pulse crops have really lagged behind cereal grains,” he said.

McGreevy believes the initiative could easily double U.S. pulse acres over the next eight years.

Growers planted 528,000 acres of lentils, 468,000 acres of peas, 142,200 acres of chickpeas and 1.67 million acres of beans this year.

McGreevy said the American pulse industry is working closely with Pulse Canada to ensure there is no duplication with health and nutrition and sustainability research conducted in Canada.

“We consider (research) to be pre-competitive. We’re trying to raise the boat for all pulse crops,” he said.

The other important pulse initiative in the Senate bill was a last-minute amendment to create a pilot program to incorporate more pulses into national school breakfast and lunch programs, which feed 55 million children every school day.

The program will provide the agriculture secretary with $10 million until 2017 to buy pulse crops for school meals. Few pulses are now used in those meals.

“Burritos is the closest that we get to getting into the school meal programs,” said McGreevy.

The pilot will determine which pulses are best suited to school breakfasts and lunches and how they influence the nutritional levels of those meals.

“If successful, then we’ll have a customer for life. We’re trying to get at the younger people who need to eat more healthy foods,” said McGreevy.

“I think it will have a significant impact on pulse consumption for the long term.”

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