By Byron Lannoye
I started seeding field peas a few years after the original innovators that started with this beneficial crop. I believe the year was 1996 when I listened to a very energetic Clif Issendorf speak at the Lake Region Roundup in Devils Lake and was converted to a “pea guy”. Field Peas were a great rotational crop for me and they also had amazing soil health benefits. The first year that I planted yellow field peas (which I bought from Clif Issendorf) we didn’t have a local market to sell them into and I wasn’t sure who or where I would be able to sell my production to. I believed so strongly in this crop right out of the gate that I was sure a market would present itself in our region. My local market showed up as I had hoped it would and Lake Region Grain offered us $6.00 a bushel for our first pea crop and the farm made good money per acre at that price. If I remember correctly there was approximately 30,000 acres of field peas planted that year in ND, so the state was just getting it “feet wet” with pulse crops. I guess this is the point where you could say “and the rest is history”, but it isn’t quite that easy. Soon I was elected to serve at the county level and report to our county and our North Dakota Dry Pea and Lentil Association board (NDDPLA). It didn’t take long after the stint of being a county representative that I found myself on the NDDPLA board as a board member. During this period we worked on getting crop insurance for pulse crops, we worked on the LDP program and we brought peas and lentils into the “normal” crop fold. Once again it didn’t take long and I found myself elected as President of the NDDPLA board. Our field pea and lentil acreages had consistently increased after my initial first planting and the NDDPLA board felt it was time we make a move from our contracted consulting firm that was handling our affairs on a part time basis to handling everything ourselves. We rented office space on Burnt Boat Dr. and we hired office staff and an executive director to handle our affairs on a full time basis. This was the beginning of the “big acreages” of pulse crops in ND and when I finally went off the NDDPLA board in 2006 we had grown to an acreage of 600,000 acres of peas and 156,000 acres of lentils. During this same time period Montana had also been growing and they had 237,000 acres of peas and 139,000 acres of lentils. North Dakota and Montana together had grown to 1,132,000 acres of pulse crops in 10 years! The NDDPLA started working with MT growers more closely around 2005 or 2006 and asking them to join our Association. Eventually that came to fruition and the two states had a shared Association which replaced the NDDPLA with the current Northern Pulse Growers Association (NPGA).
Everything I have talked about so far was made possible by very dedicated board members that sacrificed personal time and money to build our industry. The process was simple – the NDDPLA board members had a dream and we followed through with it. We were also very lucky to have hired Shannon Berndt and Eric Bartsch as our first NDDPLA employees. Eric and Shannon were (and still are) both very dedicated to the pulse industry and they also are responsible for the success that we have enjoyed through the years. Last but not least the pioneer pulse processors that took a chance and also had a dream to make the industry thrive are a part of this success story. My processor friends Dave Polries, Greg Johnson, Joe Bloms, Les and Dianne Paulson, Jerome and Les Knudson, Kevin Haas and Justin and Marvin Flaten all took a chance on this fledgling industry back in the beginning and without their help we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the success that we have enjoyed throughout the years. We are the Northern Pulse Growers Association and I couldn’t be prouder of the Association and the people that built it! We have one other board that deserves recognition as well, the North Dakota Dry Pea and Lentil Council. This is the group that handles the checkoff money and decides where and how the checkoff should be spent. This board was along with us every step of the way and I am equally as proud of the Council as I am of the Association. It has been at times a challenging trip to get to where we are today, but the perseverance has paid off for all of us.
In conclusion, if you ever get a chance to serve on the Association or the Council I highly recommend that you do. It is a life changing experience and you will learn all about the entire process and what goes into making a successful commodity organization run.