A Welcome Rain Gives Pulse Growers Hope

May 27, 2021

Pulse prices seem to be improving, and global and domestic markets for pulses show promise. Record high pulse stocks are decreasing as demand picks up, and the USDA have promised to purchase more pulses in their international and domestic food aid programs. This is good news. However, the question for shippers right now is can they get their pulse shipments out to international buyers (see side story), while the question on the bulk of U.S. pulse growers right now is will there be enough moisture to bring in decent yields this harvest?

Early this spring as the USDA surveyed growers about planting intentions, a lot of growers had already contracted seed for crops based on the strength of the market. Many of the plains growers were wondering if they were going to get enough moisture to even get a crop in the ground, it was already that dry. In a discussion about the March NASS projected planting report at the April USADPLC board meeting, Eric Bartsch of AGT in Bismarck, ND said that many Montana and North Dakota growers were putting off contracts until the moisture situation improved. Growers from Montana agreed that the moisture profile might have them switch from oilseeds to more drought tolerant crops, like pulses. Kim Saueressig of North Dakota summed it up for plains growers, “There will be enough moisture to get a crop in, but if we don’t see some showers, it’s going to be a train wreck.” And that train was definitely on the rails heading for a derailment. Drought tolerant crops can only go so far without moisture, and in parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, it was darn dry.

North Dakota is in dire condition. Over 70% of the state has been in extreme drought since April, and the U.S. Drought Monitor said on Thursday that over 16% of the state is in “exceptional” drought conditions – the worst rating on the scale. That 16% covers a lot of farmland between Minot and Bismarck, with extreme drought conditions splashing across of pulse fields including Williston, Dickinson, Minot, and Bismarck, the northeastern part of Montana, and northern part of South Dakota. Even in Washington and Idaho rains were scarce.

So, you can imagine the relief of some of these growers to get very welcome rain this week. “Many areas just received the first rain since July of 20,” said Beau Anderson of Williston, ND. Beau planted lentils this year, and although the rainfall wasn’t a lot, only .01 inches for the Williston area, he has hopes he’ll finally see those lentils emerge. “Most crops would not sprout or emerge until this rain was received. One third of ND has been placed in a D4 drought designation, so dry is an understatement.”

Mark Hardy of Beach, ND has his crops fully planted and didn’t get the benefit of this week’s rain, “There are scattered storms in the region but not much hitting western ND. That may change this weekend,” he reports. Mark planted Arcadia green peas and ND Eagle lentils, and although his area received about .85” of rain a couple of weeks ago, allowing the lentils to germinate, he is very concerned about moisture. “With increased temperatures we are definitely in need of something more substantial soon,” he remarked. “My expectations are getting lowered everyday… but I’m still optimistic we will get to combine!”

The farming city of Froid is in that extreme drought designated corner of Montana and is home to the farm of Kim Murray. Some of the Great Plains region received upward of 3 inches, and Froid received a pretty good drenching. “Up until today it has been extremely dry. We have had 1.2” last night,” reports Kim. That’s good news for his lentils. “Our lentils are just popping through. (They) still need to be rolled. The rain is most welcome.” Things are still dry in many areas, and so far the “exceptional” drought counties have seen no rainfall. The weather system that brought the moisture this week is still hanging around, but as weatherman John Wheeler for the Grand Forks ABC TV affiliate puts it, “We are going to get some rainfall, but it’s not going to be to end the drought.” Soil moisture in many of these dry areas continues to decline, while the soil moisture in the exceptional areas is relatively non-existent near the surface.

Many pulse growers also grow wheat, and wheat just isn’t that drought tolerant. North Dakota farmer Paul Anderson (see Twitter pics) decided to pull the plug on his dusty field of wheat in favor of replanting it with corn… in late May. The move was so drastic it made the Bloomberg business report.

Growers in the PNW had ample moisture to plant into, in contrast to North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. Palouse, Washington grower Aaron Flansburg planted 300 acres of garbs into moisture, and they’re emerging right now. “I think they look pretty decent so far, but we will need rain to get them to finish well.” Since the months following an early planting in the Palouse area, growers have seen little to no rain until this week. “We got .55” today, which was very welcome. Also, the barley is a different story, and looks terrible. I’m excited to have a better price this year, though!”

Nate Hahner farms land in Spokane, County near Fairfield, about 50 miles or so west of Aaron’s Palouse farm, and his area did not receive the same amount of moisture, about a tenth of an inch. “We planted pardina lentils this year they seem to have emerged well, and the dab of recent moisture will help with some growth. We hope that there will be more in the forecast as things in Spokane County, northern Whitman County, and North Idaho are dry.” Nate says the peas and chickpeas in his area look fine, but lentils need a bit more moisture. “Unless we get more rain, the yield will be below average.” 

This recent rain did improve drought conditions in other states, such as Nebraska, however, and it has given a lot of pulse growers some hope for harvest.

“These recent rains are giving us hope of a turnaround in this production year,” said Beau Anderson. “We all continue to pray for moisture.”

Source: Pulse Pipeline