Attracted by high-flying wheat prices, Inland Northwest farmers this spring will plant 50,000 fewer acres of peas and lentils, a trade group said Wednesday.
Ironically, the move comes on the heels of a sweeping reform of federal farm programs that frees wheat farmers to switch to other crops without losing subsidy payments. But with wheat selling for more than $5 a bushel, farmers are doing just the opposite.
“It’s a rush into wheat and barley,” said Tim McGreevy, chief executive of the Moscow-based USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council.
The council surveyed pea and lentil growers in Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. About 95 percent of the nation’s pea and lentil crop is grown along the Washington-Idaho border.
The survey found that growers will plant 13 percent fewer pea and lentil acres, from 383,900 acres in 1995 to 334,000 acres this year.
The biggest declines are expected in green peas and Austrian winter peas, whose prices have only recently crept to average levels.
However, production of chickpeas, also known as garbanzos, will increase. Chickpeas acreage is expected to leap 34 percent, from 13,100 acres last year to 17,600 acres, as farmers plant newly released varieties that are resistant to a disease which nearly wiped out the crop in the late 1980s.
Peas and lentils currently do not compete in market value compared with wheat. Palouse farmers this week would get $300 an acre or more off a modest 60-bushel wheat yield. Green peas, which typically yield 2,000 pounds per acre, would fetch $190.
Lentils are worse. The crop would pay $170 an acre on a 1,100-pound yield, slightly less money than what barley would bring at current prices.
However, farmers don’t plant peas and lentils just for immediate returns, McGreevy said.
Many grow the legumes as a rotational crop on land scheduled to be planted into winter wheat in the fall. Peas and lentils help break disease cycles and retain nitrogen in the soil, increasing the chances for a bountiful wheat crop the following year. Barley also is planted for rotation, particularly in low-rainfall areas.