The humble pea is America's favorite new crop

pea field
CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia/Gilles San Martin – Pea field

Demand for plant-based protein is driving rapid growth, while crops like corn and soy stagnate.

Nobody used to want peas; now everyone does. The little legume has risen to stardom in the world of agricultural commodities, thanks to an increasing interest in plant-based protein. People want to eat less meat and are looking for alternative sources of protein, and products like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger have raised the pea's profile even more.

Now farmers can hardly keep up. Bloomberg reported that growers in the United States and Canada are rushing to put peas in the ground, up to 20 percent more than usual this year, and that includes even those farmers who are "a bit put off by the whole vegetarian movement that’s driving the demand."

Bloomberg cited Tony Fast, a farmer from Montana who describes himself as a "traditional meat guy and pro-rancher," and yet has jumped on the pea bandwagon, since demand for alfalfa (livestock feed) and wheat has flatlined. Fast said,

"At the beginning we didn’t see [peas] as a money maker – it just made the farm more sustainable." But that’s changing now with his peas fetching close to $5 a bushel, up from about $2.80 a few years ago, which was roughly a break-even price. “I am excited for new markets for the peas.”

Those potential markets certainly look promising. Since going public in May, Beyond Meat's shares have increased 500 percent. Filmmaker James Cameron has announced an investment in a pulse-processing plant called Verdient Foods. French nutrition company Roquette is building a pea protein plant in Manitoba and has agreed to supply Beyond Meat. Impossible Foods, too, boasts a star-studded lineup of investors, despite remaining a private company.

The U.S. Agriculture Minister Sonny Perdue recently visited Impossible Foods' headquarters and said the pea protein-based burger was "very good." It's a high-profile observation that certainly doesn't hurt the industry. And most people who have tried Beyond Meat products or an Impossible Burger know how (surprisingly) delicious these pea-based products can be; demand is growing and the products are becoming ever more accessible.

It's good to hear that farmers have something to be excited about these days, after the many hits they've taken recently, from tariffs to low prices to droughts and deluges. The rise of the pea sounds like a win-win situation for all involved – a moneymaker (hopefully) for the farmers and an ethical, sustainable food choice for eaters.

The humble pea is America's favorite new crop
Demand for plant-based protein is driving rapid growth, while crops like corn and soy stagnate.

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