Farm bill could help local lentil, bean growers



Posted on February 27, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 27 at 12:01 PM

PULLMAN, Wash. -- The nearly $1 trillion farm bill passed by Congress this month could put more chick peas and lentils on local dinner tables.

In the U.S., so-called “pulse crops,” like lentils, beans, and peas, have historically not received the overwhelming government research funding that crops like corn and wheat have.
Thanks to a $125 million research package added to the massive new farm bill, that is set to change.  Washington State University and Idaho A.G. researchers will soon be able to apply for grants to research those crops.

“It's going to help everybody because, first off, there's going to be more acres raised and then the farmers [are] going to hire more people,” said Dan Bruce, the President of BNP Lentil Company in Farmington, Washington.  “I’m going to hire more people if I'm busier.”

Everyday, BNP Lentil Company workers clean, pack, and stack 50-100 pound bags of crops that have been stored for the winter.

The Farmington plant only processes lentils that get shipped overseas.  Most of the demand for lentils comes from Europe, not the Inland Northwest.

“In Spain, five pounds of lentils [are] consumed per person, per year,” Bruce said.  “If I was to guess - in the United States I don't even think you could.  You know it would be ounces per person.”

 The U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council hopes the new federal dollars will allow researchers to find new ways to use pulse crops, such as making flour from lentils or peas instead of wheat.  Grant money would also be used to increase the quality and quantity of crops and start programs to get more of the protein and fiber-rich veggies in school lunches.

“If they could make like a fluffy snack, like a 'cheeto' say for instance, and then it would be healthy,” said Bruce.

If new research leads to more demand for lentils or beans, the Palouse growers who do sell locally can increase their supply, and scientists are hopeful more Washington-grown lentils end up on kitchen tables throughout the state.