The 2018 calendar year saw pea and lentil prices near record lows as the market was still reeling from the impact of India implementing tariffs on produce coming into the country. By year's end, and with a little help from a weak Canadian pea export, pea markets rebounded and are strengthening moving into the second quarter of 2019.
"Right now, peas are one of the best priced commodities out there. Farmers need to keep in mind that, without China and India buying this year, the value of peas are being based on less than 60% of our demand chain," said Levi Hall, general manager of Beach Cooperative Grain Company. "If we can get deals done with India and China, which I foresee, there's going to be a huge increase in demand and subsequently a higher value for the commodity."
Hall promoted the idea that local farmers seriously consider giving peas a chance, since the products are widely popular staples of dishes in China, India and the Middle East - three fast growing population centers.
"The goal is to hit one million bushels per year locally," Hall said. "The goal of one million bushels is very feasible, and we're confident that on good years we can hit between 1 1/2 to two million bushels."
According to Hall, the "banana belt" of North Dakota is the ideal location for farmers interested in moving into the pea and lentil market.
"Our soil type definitely helps, but our arid climate is very important and it's the combination of the two that make our peas, lentils and chickpeas very lucrative," he said. "We expect our pea acres to be up and our lentil acreage to be down in the coming year, but those fluctuate."
Three years ago, the Beach Cooperative Grain Co. partnered with the Fargo-based Anchor Ingredients to form Golden Valley Ingredients and launch the new pea processing plant near the border of Montana in western North Dakota.
"We have 200 active patrons, and a vast majority of them will grow one of the two - peas or lentils - and a good majority will grow both," Hall said. "We process peas, lentils and chickpeas. The reason we kind of got into it was because we believe that we grow some of the highest quality peas and lentils in the world."
Beach Cooperative Grain Co., which recently celebrated their 100th year in operation, is capable of providing local farmers with the best commodity market for peas, lentils and chickpeas as a result of their new pea processing plant.
"We felt that it was worth taking an investment into our growers as a cooperative. We felt it was important to say that we believe in the product that we're producing locally and we're going to try and showcase it globally," Hall said. "Everyone has a mortgage to pay, so everyone along the way is taking a little cut. By eliminating their cuts, we're giving our farmers the best price possible."
Prior to the plant, the process of getting a farmer's product to the end user was a long and convoluted process - something the plant has streamlined.
"It used to be that I would buy the product from a local farmer and sell it to a retailer, who would contract with someone who would clean the product. Then they would have to contract with someone who could bag the product before they would finally ship the products to the west coast," Hall said. "From there, it would get offloaded onto shipping barges in containers and go across the ocean and get unloaded, transported via rail or truck to a plant where the bags are opened and split down into 1 or 2 pound bags and sold to a grocery store."
Hall added, "The process is much better now that the plant is here."
"The way it is now is that I buy the product from a local farmer, clean and bag the products here, and ship them directly to the west coast," Hall said. "We've cut out a large chunk of that first chain and as a result, bring that value back to the local farmers."
With the new plant, Golden Valley Ingredients is capable of producing food grade product on-site, from farm to plate.
Food preferences are not a surprise to anyone, and different cultures have always naturally gravitated toward particular dishes. Peas and lentils, at least in the United States, have historically been reviled according to a study by Marcia Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center.
"Peas are going to taste pretty much the same no matter what. The reason we, as Americans, don't really eat peas as much as other areas of the world is because we didn't really grow up with them being a staple of our diet," Hall said. "That doesn't mean that, because domestically we don't really eat peas, farmers should be wary. Most of our product still goes over to export ports in Washington state and then over to the Middle East or South America. We have some lentil products heading to Peru right now and ship a lot into Spain and northern Africa."
And according to Hall, domestic acceptance of peas and lentils is on the rise.
"We have started to see an increased demand, especially in lentil products, along the coastal United States," he said. "Lentils are being used as an alternative protein and the pea product demands are increasing for pet foods. There's a lot of optimism for peas and lentils right now, internationally and domestically."
For more information about Beach Cooperative Grain Co., visit www.beachcoop.com or call 701-872-3761 or 800-945-3761, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.