Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Mae Smith

It's the International Year of the Pulses


September 14, 2016

When I first heard that 2016 was designated by the United Nations as International Year of the Pulses I thought, ‘Pulse, like a heartbeat?’

I was wrong. They were not talking about a heartbeat. Pulses are legumes like beans, peas and lentils. Dry beans, which are a pulse, are grown in the Big Horn Basin. Many pulses are also major components of cover crops and others are found on native rangelands.

A whole year was dedicated to these amazing plant parts for many reasons.

1. Pulses are healthy to eat. They are a good source of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and minerals.

2. Pulses are inexpensive. They are a mainstay in the diet of billions contributing to food security around the world.

3. Pulses are efficient users of water and nutrients so can live in more marginal environments than many crops.

4. Pulses fix nitrogen into the soil and increase soil fertility.

As a consumer, 1 and 2 are quite important. I’m a happy consumer of pulses, although I could surely increase my recipe variety. In cattle country, I should probably be quiet about enjoying hummus and veggies!

Ag producers and range managers are very appreciative of the last 2 points. Pulses are an important component of multiple cropping systems. They help replenish the nitrogen that the other nutrient-hungry crops have taken from the soil.

We can thank the bacteria Rhizobium and Bradyrhizobium and their association with plants for this difficult process. They live in root nodules and break the very tight bond between two nitrogen molecules. The only other natural way that happens is through lightening. Since these bacteria release usable nitrogen into the soil, other soil microorganisms are fed which increases biodiversity and creates a healthier soil.

I’m sure the UN was thinking of crops when they designated this year. However, pulses are also found on rangelands. These species are not suitable for human consumption and some are poisonous to livestock. Lupine, milkvetches, locoweeds, larkspur, alfalfa and caragana are all legumes so fix nitrogen. Since rangelands are nutrient-limited, these plants contribute to soil health and the ability of other plants to survive.

Next time you’re enjoying your refried beans, you can lift your fork to the International Year of the Pulses!


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