Alberta-grown 'superfood' has a strong pulse, says farmer

The United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Pulses, and the Alberta-grown crop is still rising in popularity, despite challenges during its growing season this year.

The edible dried seeds of legumes are growing in popularity

Chickpeas, pictured here sauteed with an egg on toast, are one of the pulses that are grown by Alberta farmers. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Last year was declared the International Year of Pulses by the United Nations, and the Alberta-grown crop is still rising in popularity, despite challenges during its growing season in 2017.

Pulses are the edible, dried seeds of legumes, and include peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. 

Alberta Pulse Growers chairman D' Arcy Hilgartner told the the Calgary Eyeopener that the hearty and healthy "superfood" is on track to be in high demand in 2018.

Farmers faced difficulties like dry and hot weather in southern Alberta this year, and extremely swampy conditions in the north that led to late planting. Meanwhile, one of the crop's biggest export markets, India, introduced significant tariffs in the fall — 50 per cent on yellow peas and 25 per cent on lentils.

The amount of pulse crops in Alberta have doubled in the past five years, says farmer D'arcy Hilgartner. (Paul Dornstauder/CBC)

"When you're dealing with a country that takes 40 to 45 per cent of our yellow pea production and a third of our lentils, it was a bit of a hit," Hilgartner said on Thursday.

But, Hilgartner added, the future of pulses is bright with the possibility of expanding the market through trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and increasing consumption in Canada by selling not just whole pulses, but fractionated products like chickpea flour or pea vermicelli.

Pulses have a number of benefits for farmers: the crop makes its own fertilizer by producing nitrogen, has extremely efficient water use and grows in a slightly different season from most crops, allowing farmers to diversify their production and workload.

Pulses are dried legume seeds that can be turned into products like starchy vermicelli noodles or pea-based protein powders. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

"We've doubled the amount of pulse acres [in the province] in the last five years," said Hilgartner, who is based in Camrose. 

Alberta Pulse represents 6,000 pulse farmers, who work over two million acres of land across the province. 

Pulses are good for more than just delicious hummus, Hilgartner said — they also have great health benefits and have been labelled a "superfood."

"Not only the high protein and high fibre, but [we're] finding it in diets for chronic diseases like diabetes or coronary heart disease."

The popularity of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets might have something to do with the success of pulses, as well.

"It isn't hurting. Obviously as a farmer, I grow more than just peas ... but it's giving people an option, and options are good," Hilgartner said.

Consumers looking for locally-grown pulse products can check for the label "Product of Canada" at the grocery store.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener