Pulse crops can pump up your profits
For many producers, pulse crops have been very profitable.
Pulse crops are legumes. Most are harvested primarily for dry seed that is used as both human food and animal feed. Pulse crops grown in the region include lentils, field peas, dry beans and chickpeas, or garbanzo beans.
According to FINBIN data (www.finbin.umn.edu), farmers enrolled in Farm Business Management programs in the northwest, west and south-central regions of North Dakota averaged a $176.59-per-acre net return over labor and management on lentils from 2008 through 2010. Twenty-one farms reported growing lentils and averaged 154.18 acres per farm. In the same years, 119 farms reported having an average of 55.6 acres of fallow with a net return of minus $55.46 per acre
• Pulse crops can be grown as profitable replacements for fallow.
• Pulse crops fix nitrogen and improve soil structure.
• More management and special marketing are required for success.
During these same years, growers enrolled in the Farm Management Program also grew field peas on 123 farms, with an average net return of $39.69 per acre.
Granted, not every farm or every farmer is suited for pulse crop production. However, the option of replacing a net deficit with a decent profit should entice farmers into exploring cropping alternatives and further education.
Pulse crops do require some alternative equipment and increased management, but when weighed against an alternative such as fallow in the west regions of North Dakota, there are definite benefits.
One Williston area farmer said introducing pulse crops had slowly increased his average yields. The yields increased so much that after a year of preventative planting on many acres in 2011, using the summer fallow yield average on his crop insurance for 2012 was not economically effective.
Granted, he felt the past years were quite good as far as rainfall was concerned, which helped increase yields. However, he also mentioned a noticeable increase in organic matter, decreased erosion and an impressive increase in his net farm income over time.
Another farmer noticed a definite change for the better in the soil productivity on some of his most marginal farmland when he planted malting barley after chickpeas. The ground was reported to be “mellow and soft.” He had higher barley yields and better quality barley, too. Garbanzo beans typically have an aggressive root system that seems to mine for water, and a farmer near Tioga, N.D., noticed that soils that seemed to be lacking depth or had a layer of hard pan underneath were broken through and began to hold more water.
Anderson is a North Dakota Farm Management Program instructor at Williston State College. Contact him at 701-774-4200 or Beau.D.Anderson@willistonstate.edu.
Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
This article published in the May, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.