By SEAN ELLIS
Dry pea acres in Idaho are expected to be up significantly from last year, as pea prices have reached levels not seen in 40 years.
That increase in pea acres will come at the expense of lentil acres, which are expected to be down from last year.
"We're seeing dry pea prices at their highest levels since the early 1970s so that's the reason you're seeing a (big) shift from lentil acres to dry pea acres," said Tim McGreevy, administrator of the Idaho Pea and Lentil Commission.
According to USDA estimates, dry edible pea acreage in Idaho is expected to total 35,000 acres in 2013, a 30 percent increase from 2012, while lentil acreage is anticipated to drop 39 percent to 20,000 acres.
Dry pea prices range between 22 and 25 cents a pound, up from 14-18 cents last year, and they're at their highest level since the 1970s, when prices were over 30 cents a pound, said McGreevy, CEO of the U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council.
"Farmers have responded to that and are planting more pea acres vs. lentil acres," he said. Lentil prices are improving and are now between 24 and 27 cents a pound, McGreevy said. But, he added, peas traditionally out-yield lentils by about 600 to 700 pounds per acre. Although pea prices are lower per pound, "the net will be much higher if prices hold where they're at currently."
Total pea and lentil acres in Idaho are well below their 10-year averages, as many farmers in the state have planted significantly more chickpea acres over the past few years.
McGreevy said chickpea acres in Idaho are expected to be near their record 73,000-acre total reached last year but well ahead of the former record of 52,000 acres set in 2010.
Kendrick, Idaho, farmer Robert Blair said growers in his part of the state, where the majority of the state's pea and lentil acres are grown, had a great two-week window beginning the first of May to get their crops in.
Soil moisture and temperatures were ideal, Blair said, and he expects a quality pea and lentil crop this year.
"The peas in the first field I planted were popping out of the ground in six days. That's fast," he said. "The outlook this year is really good. I'm optimistic."
In Washington, pea acres are expected to hold steady at 65,000 acres and lentil acres are projected to reach 55,000 acres, down from 65,000 in 2012.
Nationally, dry pea acres are expected to total 850,000 acres, up 131 percent from 2012, and lentil acres are projected to total 335,000 acres, down 28 percent from 2012.