Pulses and legumes (beans, peas, lentils) are set to hit record production highs in the 2016-2017 growing seasons, says the USDA, with projections up 120 percent over 2015-2016 growing season estimates.
“Strong exports and rising domestic demand are driving the surge in pulse crop production,” USDA notes on its website. “In particular, Americans are consuming more pulse-focused food products like hummus,” which, the agency notes, has boomed from $10 million in sales in the late 1990s to more than $700 million in recent years.
The shift toward plant-based proteins like beans and legumes is supported by “trends toward more healthful and varied snacking,” notes USDA, as well as a rise in gluten-free foods that often incorporate beans or lentils in lieu of gluten.
American farmers in the Northern Plain states and the Pacific Northwest have subsequently increased planting of lentils, peas, and chickpeas in recent years, while decreasing production of wheat. Dry peas specifically are receiving notoriety as yellow pea protein–a soy and gluten-free meat, egg, and dairy alternative–is now a key ingredient in Beyond Meat’s products, Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo, and newcomer to the alternative dairy market, Ripple’s nondairy milk.
According to the USDA data, since 2011, harvest areas for beans, legumes, and peas have risen significantly in key producing states. North Dakota has seen a 274 percent increase, Idaho and Washington are up just over 70 percent, and Montana has seen a 128 percent increase.
Pulses include twelve crops in the bean, pea, and lentil category. The United Nations declared 2016 as “The Year of the Pulses.” Highly nutritious, legumes and pulses are inexpensive, protein- and fiber-packed food sources that can grow in a variety of climates. Some pulses, like lentils, are nitrogen-fixers, which means they can improve soil quality for other crops in rotation. Legumes and pulses also have a lower carbon footprint than animal-based proteins.
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