Pulse crops are the edible seed of legume crops, and include dry peas and beans, lentils and chickpeas.
Global pulse production has increased over the past 10 years to 77.6 million tonnes per year (almost doubling the total world production) In 2014, beans represented the largest percentage (32%) of all pulse production in the world, almost 25 million tonnes, (down from 46% just 10 years ago)followed by chickpeas (18%),( peas (15%), and lentils (6%) (pulseCanada 2016)
India is the largest producer of these pulse crops, followed by Canada. Countries mainly producing beans are Brazil, Myanmar and Mexico, while countries like Canada, China, the US, and to a degree Mexico, produce some of all the pulse crops. Turkey largely produces lentils and chickpeas, while France and Russia are pea-producing countries.
Canada’s pulse production and exports have been rising since the early 1990s. In 2006, Canada produced 3.6 mln MT of peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans from 2.4 million hectors. The 2016 production area was estimated at around 4.0 million hectares on over 12,000 Canadian Farms, with an estimated yield over 8.3 mln MT The Prairies produce approximately 96% of Canada’s pulses, with Peas representing the greatest volume (54%) followed by Lentils (39%), beans (3%) and chickpeas (1%).
Canada has become the world’s largest exporter of peas and lentils and a leader in exports of chickpeas and beans. Canada exports approximately 75% of its total production: pea exports mainly go into India, Spain, and China; lentils are distributed to many of the major food markets; a large percentage of beans go to the US and UK; and chickpeas are exported to Pakistan, India, Jordan and other countries.
The three main markets for pulses are food, feed, and ingredients. The ingredient market breaks pulses into starch, protein, and fibre that can then be used for food or feed. Canada’s pulse consumption as food is small compared to other countries. Canada’s pea consumption is estimated at 1% of its total production, while around 19% is used for feed. The demand for pulses for use as food and feed is expected to rise globally. The Canadian ingredient market uses approximately 50,000-70,000 tonnes of pulses processed into flour or its constituent parts.
The use of feed peas in a number of animal rations has proved successful. Peas are rich in protein, lysine, and starch to provide the essential amino acids and energy required by high-producing animals.
Pulses are a healthy food choice providing twice the amount of protein of cereal grains, high levels of dietary fibre and important vitamins and minerals. They are a gluten free food and have a low glycemic index (important for people with diabetes). Regular consumption of pulses may reduce the risk of certain diseases.
There are benefits to increasing the use of pulses in crop rotations. They reduce the amount of fertilizer needed due to natural nitrogen fixation, as well as provide secondary benefits to the soil and crops that follow in rotation. Peas can fix up to 90% of their nitrogen needs, and provide some residual nitrogen for the following crop.
Transportation presents some challenges and opportunities for pulse growers. Product moves by rail on hopper cars, boxcars, containers, or through intermodal terminals to the ports. The Canadian pulse industry has adapted well to move the product quickly to overseas markets.