According to UNL Extension Plant Pathologist Robert Harveson, dry bean production in the Nebraska Panhandle began in 1895 when Charles Stroud of Bayard planted 1.5 acres of the crop. Since then, dry beans have grown to be a significant crop with Nebraska consistently ranking among the top states in production. Now producers in the Panhandle and elsewhere in Nebraska are looking increasingly at other pulse crops like field peas, lentils, and chickpeas for their crop rotations.
The growing demand for protein made from peas and other pulses have farmers considering pulse crops. Field peas and other pulse crops can be used for human food, pet food, and fed to livestock animals. The growing interest stems from growing consumer demand for plant-based or gluten-free diets, plant-based alternatives to meat, and an ever-larger pet population.
Testimony before the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee in 2020 on the Pulse Crop Resources Act indicated field peas and pulse acres in the state have increased from 10,000-20,000 in the mid-2010s to roughly 80,000 in recent years. The June 30 planted acreage report from USDA estimated 41,000 acres were planted to dry edible peas this year. Montana and North Dakota lead the nation with 590,000 and 260,000 acres respectively. Washington is the only other state ranked ahead of Nebraska for dry edible pea acres.
Strahinja Stepanivic, an extension researcher and educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, testified before the Agriculture Committee that surveys farmers who have grown field peas show a reduction of fertilizer use by 21 percent and a better utilization of water by 32 percent. Farmers also added that field peas increased profitability because they can save on fertilizer costs. With higher input costs and the growing demand for pulse crops, there’s a good chance Nebraska producers will devote more acres to pulse crops in the coming years.