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Slinkard, A.E., R.S. Bhatty, B.N. Drew, and R.A.A. Morrall. 1990. Dry pea and lentil as new crops in Saskatchewan: A case study. p. 159-163. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

Dry Pea and Lentil as New Crops in Saskatchewan: A Case Study

A.E. Slinkard, R.S. Bhatty, B.N. Drew, and R.A.A. Morrall

  2. DRY PEA
  6. Table 1
  7. Table 2


New crops include old established crops that are being grown in a new area on an extensive scale for the first time. Saskatchewan traditionally had a one crop economy and annually produced about 7,000,000 hectares of wheat, primarily of hard red spring. In 1968, dry pea (Pisum sativum L.) production in Saskatchewan was about 240 hectares, but by 1988 production had expanded to over 160,000 hectares. Lentil (Lens culinaris Medik.) production started in Saskatchewan in 1969 and peaked at 200,000 hectares in 1987. Thus, dry pea and lentil can be viewed as successful "new" crops for Saskatchewan, and have helped relieve some of the problems inherent in a one crop economy.

These dramatic increases in production of dry pea and lentil did not occur spontaneously. A strong basic and applied research program was complimented by an intense extended demonstration program with emphasis on an integrated multidisciplinary approach in both instances. A small scale marketing and exporting industry was in place, based primarily on a limited production of dry pea in neighboring Manitoba. Thus, the proper infrastructure was in place and operating when two things happened: the price of the major crops (wheat, barley, canola) dropped, while the price of dry pea increased slightly and the price of lentil literally exploded. Saskatchewan farmers responded to these price changes and production of dry pea and lentil increased dramatically. Development of the dry pea and lentil industry in Saskatchewan provides an object lesson on methods of developing new crops into successful economic entities.

A large part of the successful commercialization of dry pea and lentil in Saskatchewan must be attributed to the Government of Saskatchewan and the National Research Council of Canada who had the foresight to jointly establish the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan in 1971. One of the main research thrusts of the CDC was to develop crops new to Saskatchewan into economically successful entities. To this end a team consisting of a breeder-agronomist, a weed control researcher and a part-time crop quality researcher was given a long-term commitment to develop new crops for Saskatchewan. In addition, a plant pathologist from the Biology Department cooperated closely on disease research. The assembly of this multidisciplinary team with a definite long-term commitment was essential to successful commercialization of dry pea and lentil in western Canada. The dramatic increases in dry pea and lentil production in Saskatchewan provide two different scenarios for successful introduction and commercialization of a new crop.


Dry pea has been grown in western Canada, primarily in Manitoba for over 80 years. However, production rarely exceeded 20,000 hectares. Dry pea production in Saskatchewan was less than 1000 hectares until 1971, but increased to 170,000 hectares by 1988 (Table 1). While dry pea was not really a new crop to Saskatchewan, the rapid increase in production has provided some valuable lessons on new crop strategies.

The wheat surplus of the late 1960s induced the Prairie Regional Laboratory (PRL), National Research Council of Canada, to investigate potential alternative crops. Researchers at PRL reasoned that all basic food crops can be broken down into three major constituents, protein, oil, and starch. Since wheat was an inexpensive source of starch (at that time) and canola was a readily available oilseed crop, there was an apparent need for a protein crop to substitute for expensive soybean meal imported into western Canada from the USA. Dry pea was selected as the protein crop to evaluate because it was a cool season protein crop and a limited production was already present.

Researchers at PRL developed methods for wet processing and dry processing dry peas into such products as pea flour, pea starch, and pea protein concentrate (up to 50% protein). The hulls (seed coats) are finely ground for use in high fiber bread. In the wet processing method the pea cotyledons were finely ground and slurried with five parts water. Lime was added to raise the pH to 9.8 and then the slurry was centrifuged to yield a high protein supernatant and starch solids. The supernatant was spray dried or drum dried to produce a protein concentrate (ca 60% protein). This pea protein concentrate had a fairly bland flavor since most of the volatile pea flavor components "flashed-off" during the drying process. The primary disadvantages of the wet process are the high cost of drying and the cost of coping with large volumes of effluent. The starch is dried and has various uses such as a desliming agent in the Saskatchewan potash industry, starch adhesives, and in carbonless paper where pea starch has certain desirable characteristics.

The wet processing method was incorporated into a commercial scale plant at Woodstone Foods in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. They have been operating off and on for over 10 years with lack of a viable market for pea protein concentrate as the major restraint. The high cost of drying the starch and pea protein concentrate requires a high value for the pea protein concentrate. The use of pea protein concentrate for livestock protein supplement is the only volume market currently available and production costs make it noncompetitive with soybean meal. Attempts have been made to replace soybean protein products in various meat analogs, extenders and other food uses, but it is difficult to replace an established use or product. Woodstone Foods is producing and selling a limited volume of pea protein isolate for specialized food uses. Pea protein products must be priced lower than soy protein products if they are to become important.

A lower cost product can be produced by dry processing of the field pea. Fine grinding of the cotyledons and air classifying of the pea flour resulted in the separation of pea protein concentrate (ca. 50% protein) and pea starch (5 to 8% protein). Remilling of the pea starch can reduce protein content to 2 to 3%. The pea flour and pea protein concentrate from dry processing retain the characteristic pea flavor and this may limit commercial uses that do not allow ample heat and moisture to "flash off" most of the pea flavor components.

A commercial scale dry processing plant, Pro-Star Mills, was constructed in Saskatoon in 1978. It operated for several years, but has gone into receivership twice. In both cases, the plant was forced to sell pea protein concentrate at a loss as a livestock protein supplement in competition with soybean meal. Either a higher price for the pea starch (about 60% of the product) or a higher price for the pea protein concentrate would have made the plant economically viable. At the present time the Pro-Star Mills facility is sitting idle, but it may start operations again.

Pea meal and pea protein concentrate were evaluated for potential use in "pea chips," a high protein beverage, desserts and bread by PRL and the University of Saskatchewan. The pea flour was used to produce reconstituted "pea chips" which had twice the protein and half the fat of the conventional potato chip. Several potato chip processors looked at the commercial possibilities and decided that the several million dollars required to launch a new snack food product could not be justified as it would cut into the demand for potato chips.

Pea protein concentrate was used to replace 5 to 7% of the flour in bread to produce a bread with twice the protein content and four times the protein efficiency of regular bread. The texture and structure of the loaf was still acceptable at 7% replacement. This product was test-marketed as high protein bread for several months in Saskatoon with excellent acceptance. However, the product fell by the wayside when the pea processing plant went into receivership.

Pea flour and pea protein concentrate were also evaluated for use as the protein source in calf milk replacers, but both were poorly digested by preruminant calves. Pea protein isolates had greatly improved digestibilities, but still were not equal to skim milk powders.

Various studies at the University of Saskatchewan and Alberta Agriculture have shown the value of ground dry pea in swine finishing rations. Up to 40% peas were used to replace a fishmeal-soybean meal mixture in swine grower/finisher rations without detriment to growth rate, feed utilization or carcass quality. There was no benefit from methionine supplementation of a pea-barley ration supplemented with a vitamin-mineral premix, even though theoretically there should have been a methionine deficiency In swine rations each addition of 100 kg peas (22.5% crude protein) will replace approximately 70 kg barley (12% crude protein) and 30 kg soy bean meal. Thus, the decision to use dry pea should be based on the relative costs of barley and soybean meal and levels of lysine (Table 2). Increased pea production in Saskatchewan was initially based on providing enough production (ca. 8,000 hectares) to supply the Pro-Star Mills plant a continuing supply for processing. However, the intermittent operation of the plant failed to create an unmanageable surplus because the pea marketing infrastructure in western Canada (15 to 20 independent contractors and dealers) rose to the demand and were able to sell all available pea production into the export market. For several years in the early 1980s Canada sold over 40% of its dry pea production to Cuba, largely because the USA refused to trade with Cuba. Then in 1985, the European Economic Community (EEC) strengthened their resolve to be self sufficient in livestock protein supplements and temporarily ceased importing soybean meal and corn gluten meal from the USA. The EEC had earlier resolved to produce their own protein (primarily dry peas) and launched an incentive program to this end. However, demand for protein peas far exceeded supply. Fortuitously, Canada had a large pea crop in 1985 and was able to sell it to the EEC at high prices. Predictably, pea production in Canada, especially Saskatchewan, skyrocketed in response to these high prices in 1986, 1987 and 1988. How much longer these high prices will hold is unknown. However, this occurred at a time of surplus and low prices for the major Saskatchewan crops and since all the background research and marketing infrastructure were in place, Saskatchewan farmers were ready, willing and able to respond to this market. The next phase of the pea program will be for the Saskatchewan farmers to increase their use of dry peas as livestock protein supplement much as some of the early settlers did before the advent of soybean and soybean meal.

Once the decision was made to concentrate on dry pea as a new crop for Saskatchewan, agronomic research was initiated to develop an agronomic package of practices to maximize dry pea production. Prima emphasis was placed on reevaluating standard pea production practices from the USA, but using the adapted Canadian cultivars 'Century' and 'Trapper'. Such studies included seeding rate and date, fertilization, inoculation, chemical weed control and harvesting methods. Subsequently, a package of agronomic practices was developed and made available to producers and periodically updated.

One practice critical for successful dry pea production was inoculation. The ever increasing area of pea production was regularly being grown on new land-land that had never grown a dry pea crop before and thus these fields did not contain any Rhizobium specific to the pea plant. In the absence of inoculation on stubble fields testing low in available soil nitrogen, pea yields were low and protein content was often in the 17 to 19% range and went as low as 12.8% in one extreme case. However, the average protein content of dry pea seed in Saskatchewan is about 22%. Yield increases from inoculating pea grown on low levels of available soil nitrogen have averaged 10 to 15%, an excellent return on the small cost of inoculation. These figures serve to illustrate the importance of inoculation, especially under conditions of new soils as seen with a rapidly expanding production level.

The pea plant is a poor weed competitor. Concurrent research on evaluation of the crop tolerance and efficacy of new herbicides has been beneficial in obtaining registration of newer and more effective herbicides.

The yield potential of pea has recently increased about 15% through efforts of breeding programs at Agriculture Canada, Morden, Manitoba; The Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon; and Svalof Seed, Sweden. 'Century' (registered in 1960) and 'Trapper' (registered in 1970) have been the standard cultivars until recently. Starting in 1978, seven new pea cultivars have been registered for western Canada, many of them yielding 10 to 15% higher than the old standards. These new cultivars are `Tara', 'Tipu' (the first semi-leafless cultivar),'Titan', `Victoria', `Express', `Fortune' and `Bellevue'-all yellow cotyledon cultivars. An early dry green cotyledon cultivar, 'Princess, was registered in 1988. The old standard cultivars, 'Century' and 'Trapper, will be phased out rapidly as certified seed of these new cultivars becomes available.


Lentil was first grown in Saskatchewan in 1969. It was introduced during a time of wheat surplus and farmers were desperate for a cash crop. Pioneer Grain Co. Ltd. introduced Chilean lentil from the USA into the Dark Brown soil zone near Richlea. Production increased to about 6,000 hectares in 1973, but production dropped rapidly after that due to the lack of any locally developed agronomic information. A couple of wet springs, late seeding and an early fall frost just about eliminated lentil in Saskatchewan by 1976 (Table 1).

Meanwhile the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan grew the USDA Lentil Collection in 1972 and initiated a series of management studies with emphasis on rate and date of seeding, seeding depth, seeding methods, chemical and cultural weed control and swathing stages. Lentil plants have an indeterminate growth habit with ripe pods and flower buds on the plant at the same time. The ripe pods shatter so the crop must be swathed at the proper time to maximize yield of high quality seed.

A package of agronomic practices was developed in 1976, but it had not been field tested. Accordingly, the New Crop Development Fund of Agriculture Canada was approached and they agreed to fund a three year program demonstrating this package of agronomic practices in farmers' fields in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the first year (1977) one of the 10 first time lentil growers cooperating on this project had spectacular results. He grew 120 hectares; he did everything we suggested, the right way! The weather cooperated by providing a couple of timely rains and this cooperator produced over 2000 kg/ha of lentil, twice the long term provincial average since then. This sounds like a real success story, but is only part of the drama. The other lentil producing area in North America, The Palouse Area of eastern Washington and northern Idaho, was experiencing an unprecedented drought with lentil yields less than 30% of normal. Lentil brokers had forward sold part of the U.S. lentil crop and all of a sudden there were no lentils. They heard there were some uncontracted lentil crops in Saskatchewan, so they started bidding each other up such that the 1977 Saskatchewan lentil crop sold for an average price of $0.77/kg, up from $0.22 the previous year. The successful lentil cooperator near Regina grossed over $1500/ha! Word of this bonanza spread across Saskatchewan like a prairie fire and production has increased every year since then, except 1983, due to the low price and in 1988 due to the large carryover from the 1987 crop and the resulting low price (Table 1). Canada is now the fourth largest lentil producer and the second largest lentil exporter after Turkey.

'Laird' lentil, the first Canadian lentil cultivar, was registered in 1978 and by 1987 it was grown on over 200,000 hectares in western Canada, making it the most widely grown lentil cultivar in the world. It has extra large seed and initially foreign processors were reluctant to accept it because of its poor cooking quality when canned. However, CDC researchers showed that it cooked differently than the Chilean lentil, but it was not a poor cooker per se. Subsequently, 'Laird' lentil commanded a premium for several years due to its outstanding appearance (big and bright).

A small-seeded cultivar, `Eston', was registered in 1980 and is the highest yielding cultivar currently available. Unfortunately, it is susceptible to ascochyta blight, caused by Ascochyta fabae f. p. lentis. Ascochyta blight reduces yield and quality drastically during years with rainy weather during pod fill and maturity. Fortunately, the lentil breeder found transgressive segregation for a higher level of ascochyta resistance in 1987 and this should be available in all new cultivars registered after about 1997.


A major determinant of the success of a new crop is whether a profitable market can be found. Net returns from the dry pea crop were reasonably competitive with those from Canadian hard red spring wheat in the Black soil zone of Saskatchewan. A small export marketing infrastructure with 2 to 3 exporters was in place in the late 1960s based on the Manitoba pea crop. This expanded to over 20 contracting companies in the mid 1980s as pea production expanded. The export market, especially the Cuban market from 1979 to 1985, readily, absorbed the ever increasing production. However, the big stimulus to dry pea production was the high price paid for feed pea by the European Economic Community (EEC) starting with the 1985 crop. Continuing efforts have been made to increase domestic utilization beyond the traditional pea soup. A local dry pea processing plant was built and has gone into receivership twice, but may still succeed. Increased efforts are being made to promote local use of dry pea as a protein supplement in livestock (especially swine) rations and thus have a continuing market for the dry pea crop once the EEC market ceases offering a premium price.

Lentil has consistently provided a higher net return than the major crop hard red spring wheat in the Dark Brown soil zone (except in 1983). This has been the primary determinant of the success of the crop. However, the stage was set by the strong basic and applied research program and the demonstration program. Another indication of the success of these two programs was formation of the Saskatchewan Pulse Crop Development Board by pulse crop producers. This board immediately voted themselves a compulsory check-off of 0.5% of total sales to fund research and product promotion domestically and overseas.


Table 1. Dry pea and lentil in Saskatchewan by three year periods, 1968-1988.

Area (ha)
Year Dry pea Lentil
1968-70 690 260
1971-73 2,300 4,500
1974-76 4,800 240
1977-79 10,800 7,300
1980-82 16,000 32,700
1983-85 23,300 49,500
1986-88 129,300 145,000

Table 2. Value of dry pea in swine rations: Assumes 11.5% protein (0.4% lysine) barley, 46.5% protein (3.1% lysine) soybean meal and 22% protein (1.7% lysine) dry pea. Courtesy of Alberta Agriculture.

Value of dry pea ($/t)
Cost of barley
Cost of soybean meal ($/t) 60 ($/t)80 ($/t)100 ($/t)120 ($/t)140 ($/t)
360 210 221 231 242 252
340 201 211 221 232242
320 191 202 211 222 232
300 181 192 202 212 223
280 172 182 192 202 213
260 162 172 182 192 203
240 152 162 172 182 193
220 142 152 162 172 183

Last update February 20, 1997 by aw