There are several story lines not mentioned in the posts below: the role the North Dakota agriculture research station in Williston has played in this story; the role that increasing atmospheric CO2 might be playing; and the role a warming climate in North Dakota might be playing.
April 10, 2016: I guess this is reason #48 why I love to blog. After posting the story about the new pea processing plant in Harrold, SD, a reader -- "thank you very much" -- sent me a Bloomberg story on pea processing on the prairie. In the very first paragraph, "Williston" is mentioned:
Farming on the Northern Plains is a never-ending battle to keep the soil alive and in place. Long, dry winters kill precious organisms; the ever-present wind blows dirt across the prairie. Certain crops can help, especially pulses. Legumes such as dried peas, lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas fight erosion and replenish life-giving nitrogen, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. That made Beau Anderson an early convert to pulses on his wheat and barley farm outside Williston, ND, where he added them to his crop rotation more than a decade ago.
There wasn’t much money in it then. Pulses are high in protein and low in fat, but Americans don’t eat a lot of them. Expanding demand for corn ethanol and surging U.S. soybean exports to China helped keep pulses in the background. “When we first started growing lentils, our strategy was to break even on them,” Anderson says.
For him and many other farmers, that calculus has changed.
The biofuels industry and the Chinese economy are stagnant, which is weighing on demand and prices for U.S. corn and soy.
And India, an emerging buyer with a huge appetite for pulses, is beginning to assert itself on the world food market.
“The next couple decades could belong to India,” says Erik Norland, an economist with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. “It will have a real impact on what farmers choose to grow and on what the world eats.”
India’s annual food imports have risen 61 percent since 2010, to $22.6 billion, and there’s more room to grow. Its population is expanding at a rate of 1.2 percent per year, compared with 0.7 percent for the U.S. Indians eat 17 percent fewer calories per day than the world average, a deficit that Norland projects will shrink as the nation becomes more prosperous and imported food becomes more abundant and affordable.
Led by India, global demand for U.S.-grown pulses reached $702 million last year, more than double that of a decade ago.
Pulses won’t overtake traditional American cash crops anytime soon, if ever: in 2015, U.S. farmers dedicated 88 million acres to corn production and less than 2 million acres to peas and lentils. That’s partly because legumes require higher maintenance when it comes to controlling insects and weeds, so massive acreage becomes labor-intensive.
Still, with corn and soy at less than half their peak prices, the economics of growing pulses is becoming more attractive. “The more demand we have, the more consistent the market becomes, the easier it is to convince farmers to grow them,” Anderson says.This is one of the reasons why this story -- pea processing on the prairie is close to my heart. I posted this note back in early 2012, on Turkish workers coming to Williston to process peas.
Temporary housing from the slumping western North Dakota oil patch is being brought to South Dakota to house professionals from Turkey who will be working on a dry pea processing plant.
The Turkish workers will be overseeing the assembly and installation of specialized equipment at the $4.5 million South Dakota Pulse Processors plant near Harrold.
There are few motel rooms in Harrold, so plant CEO Steve Brown is buying two three-bedroom mobile homes from the Alexander area in northwestern North Dakota that once housed oil field workers. The homes will house the Turkish workers for up to 1 ½ months after they arrive in mid-May.
Dry peas are used for a variety of foods including flour and soup. The Harrold plant will process about 40,000 tons each year. That equates to about 35,000 acres of production. Dry peas have been grown in small amounts in South Dakota for years, but farmers had to haul them to processors in North Dakota and Minnesota.
The Harrold plant is expected to begin operating in mid-July, in time to take in field peas grown this summer.Some years ago, a similar story out of Williston, back in 2011, I believe: Turkish workers being brought in to Williston to operate a dry pea processing plant. I don't know the status of that plant any more.
Notes to the Granddaughters
Where is Harrold, SD? It appears to be the geographical center of South Dakota, not sited on any major state or federal highway, about 35 miles east of Pierre, SD.
It's hard to believe, but many, many years ago, as a college student, in the dead of winter, probably Christmas break, I hitchhiked from Pierre, SD, to Williston, ND. My roommate drove me from Augustana College, Sioux Falls, to his home in Pierre where I spent the night. The next day he dropped me off at the intersection of state highway 14 and US highway 83 north and I started hitchhiking. I still vividly remember the day -- bright, sunny, cold winter day. And I also vividly remember my first ride: a native American couple in their 50's in a very, very old 4-door sedan picked me up and drove me, probably to the turn-off to Mobridge. After that, I don't remember any of the rides. I have no idea how I got across the interstate; got through Bismarck.