The farm bill that Congress passed earlier this month will provide $135 million for pulse crop research and efforts to increase consumption, the leader of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council says.
The Pulse Crop Health Initiative will receive $25 million each year for five years and increases research on the crops “substantially,” said council CEO Tim McGreevy.
“There’s a lot we really don’t know,” McGreevy said. Pulses date back to biblical times, he said, “but we just haven’t studied them very much as a food group.”
The initiative will also evaluate the crop’s use in food products.
McGreevy points out that there are five USDA Agricultural Research Service wheat quality labs throughout the United States, including one in Pullman, Wash., no USDA pulse labs exist.
“We don’t have any quality lab or end-use research, or very little, being done on these pulse crops, despite the nutrient value they bring to the table,” McGreevy said.
The initiative will also focus on productivity and sustainability. Pulse crop yields are below corn, soybeans and wheat, McGreevy said.
“We haven’t even mapped our genome yet. We’re out to change that,” he said.
All three efforts will help pulse growers to produce a high-yielding crop.
Pulses add nitrogen to the soil, but McGreevy said there’s not much known about that process or how to enhance it to combat the rising price of fertilizer.
The Pulse Crop Products Program, which will receive $10 million over five years, allows the industry to try new foods within the school system. The goal is to increase the number of healthful choices in student breakfasts and lunches, he said.
The program was modeled after a whole grains pilot program established in 2008 to introduce foods for school menus, McGreevy said.
“There are terrific new product ideas using pulse crops as an ingredient and as a whole food,” he said.
The industry will work with school districts to evaluate student response to the new products.
The farm bill funding gives efforts a big boost, McGreevy said.
Dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium and iron are the nutrients of concern for school-aged populations.
“It just so happens that pulse crops are some of the lowest-cost and nutrient-dense foods,” McGreevy said.
The initiatives were backed by the American Pulse Association, a joint organization between the dry pea and lentil council and the U.S. Dry Bean Council.
The funding has been authorized, but still needs to be appropriated, McGreevy says. He expects funding to become available in the 2015 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, 2014.
USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council: http://www.pea-lentil.com