October 31, 2013

Senators Seek Pea, Lentil, Bean Focus in New Farm Bill

Bipartisan group pushing Pulse Health Initiative effort for school lunches

Washington, D.C. - Students and farmers could benefit from a new federal initiative supported by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). The Senators are leading a letter to members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee promoting a five-year pilot program that promotes the use of pulse crops-dry beans, dry peas, lentils and chickpeas-in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutrition program.  Northwest states are a prime producer of pulse crops. 

The Pulse Health Initiative and Pulse School Pilot Program were endorsed by a Senate vote earlier this year as part of the Senate Farm Bill.  The new effort by Crapo and Cantwell seeks to ensure the pulse crop programs are included in any farm bill legislation approved by a conference committee of the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Currently, seventeen percent of adolescents aged 12-19 are obese which puts them at increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol," the Senators said.  "Pulse crops have the potential to reduce obesity and diabetes, and improve heart health because they are high in dietary fiber and low in fat.  More research is needed into how to incorporate pulse crops into a healthy diet, how to grow them more efficiently and how they benefit human health."

If the program is approved, the USDA would report the results to Congress following the five-year pilot program.  The Farm Bill Conference Committee began meeting this week.

Consumption of some pulse crops has increased rapidly across the nation. Retail sales of hummus - just $5 million in 1997 - are projected to increase to $250 million in 2013. During that same period of time in Washington state, a massive and rapid expansion of chickpea farming occurred. By 2012, there were nearly 80,000 acres of chickpeas in the state - up from less than 10,000 acres in 2000.

Pulse crop production in Washington state supports thousands of jobs - including those in transportation, port facilities, equipment manufacturers, crop advisors, insurance, supplies, and other services. Washington state is the top chickpea producer in the nation and third in the nation for pea and lentil production and stands to greatly benefit from increased demand for pulse crops.

Washington has over 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops and 22 processors employing over 300 people in Eastern Washington. The value of pulse crop shipments handled via the Columbia-Snake River System reached nearly $50 million in 2011 - up from just over $30 million in 2001.

The Palouse Region, which encompasses parts of eastern Washington and northern Idaho, is one of the primary growing locations for pulse crops in the United States.  In recent years, Idaho has been the fourth largest pulse crop producer by acreage, and accounts for approximately 11 percent of total U.S. output. 

Idaho pulse crops, including  dry edible peas, lentils and Austrian winter peas brought a production value of about $20 million last year, according to statistics provided by the Idaho Department of Agriculture and the USDA.  . 

Crapo and Cantwell are joined on the letter by Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota).

The Pulse School Pilot is based on an amendment offered by Sen. Cantwell in the 2012 Farm Bill, and endorsed by the American Heart Association.

The text of the letter is below-

Dear Chairs and Ranking Members:

We write today to request that you retain the Pulse School Pilot Program (Section 4206) and the Pulse Health Initiative (Section 7208) of, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S.954) during negotiations on a farm bill conference report. 

The Pulse School Pilot Program would authorize a five year pilot program to provide healthy and cost effective pulse crop products to schools.  Pulse crops including dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas and lentils offer the potential to help schools stretch their food budgets by providing them with low-cost, pulse crops that are high in fiber and potassium.  At the end of the five-year pilot program the United States Department of Agriculture would report to Congress on the effectiveness of the program.  This provision was added to the Senate farm bill in 2012 by a floor amendment.  The Pulse School Pilot provision was retained in the Senate farm bill that passed the Senate 66-27 on June 10, 2013.

The Pulse Health Initiative would support expanded research into the health and nutritional benefits of pulse crops, including their ability to reduce obesity and chronic disease.  Currently, seventeen percent of adolescents aged 12-19 are obese which puts them at increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Pulse crops have the potential to reduce obesity and diabetes, and improve heart health because they are high in dietary fiber and low in fat.  More research is needed into how to incorporate pulse crops into a healthy diet, how to grow them more efficiently and how they benefit human health.

Again, we want to express our strong support for retaining the Pulse School Pilot and Pulse Health Initiative in the final farm bill conference report.