[Bonus] Panel on Pulse Grading
Don’t forget to register today for the Northern Pulse Growers Association Annual Convention happening January 19th - 21st. You can get all the information over at www.NorthernPulse.com.
In this panel we explore the advantages and challenges associated with the grading of pulse crops. While many producers grow frustrated by more criteria or hoops to jump through, our experts suggest that with careful management many times these can be used to the producers advantage by verifying the high standards US producers maintain.
Our panel is hosted by Todd Schulz, the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council Vice President of Research and Member Services. Jillien Streit is a 5th generation farmer, owner of Sticks Ag and a part of the Montana Pulse Crop Committee. She actively participates in her processing plant in a food safety role and so provides us with a unique perspective from both sides of the crop. Jillien highlights the value the grading system adds to pulse crops throughout the supply chain. The president of Hinrichs Trading company, Phil Hinrichs, joins us to share his perspective from the processing side of the business. “Grading has definitely been a learning curve for the grower but obviously the process and the end user.” And lastly, Ryan Edinger joins us with AGT Foods. He has been with the company for 12 years and observed how the pulse industry has grown and evolved into new markets overtime.
The first obstacle a producer might encounter is definitively defining quality for not only your end consumer but any person in the supply chain in between. Ryan shares that individual consumers are looking for different qualities in the crop. The marketability is largely defined by the buyer and supported but not defined by any one grading system. In the chickpea market, Phil shares that his operation largely relies on the USDA grade which can be affected by color and moisture value. He highlights that with chickpeas a lot of the value is placed in the physical appearance of the crop since there is minimal processing prior to reaching the end consumer. Jillien shares her personal focus of quality is in food safety. She also suggests that third party grading supplies a “baseline and standard for all parties in the transaction to gauge the product” and that pulse growers need to be able to balance both factors to provide the best quality.
Phil strongly suggests allowing processors to do a final clean on the product. He doesn’t mind some residue being present when the crop is presented. The handling and evaluation of the crop is what they are experts at so he recommends allowing them to handle it to avoid any unnecessary trauma to the crop. Both Phil and Ryan recommend consistent monitoring and presenting a representative sample of each bin to the processor. In order to best market the crop, processors need to know the characteristics of the crop so getting a good representative sample whether good or bad will help them find the appropriate market for what the producer has.
Cracked seed coats plague pulse growers. Jillien suggests that “high supply markets can breed very picky buyers.” She finds that there isn’t a consistent judgement of cracked seed coats and that supply and demand factors affect the tolerance of the farmer. On the producer level, she suggests monitoring the method of harvest, reducing movement of the product especially if it is cold and paying close attention to moisture levels. Ryan adds that different varieties can have stronger seed coats so paying attention to that initial selection can be of benefit. Jillien adds that even with a high level of cracked seed coats there is a market for the crop so still send a representative sample to the processor and be patient.
MRL’s (Maximum Residue Limit) are a factor that requires constant adaptation, says Jillien. She says that her operation “sets policy but that policy is always adaptive.” The end user has a growing concern in chemical residues causing more strict requirements for the market. They are in parts per million and parts per billion and represent a “tolerance level” that the industry requires. Testing for residues is relatively easy, very inexpensive and incredibly specific so levels can be very significant to producers. Ryan suggests that even exposure to drift pesticides can affect tolerance and acceptance levels of products.
To achieve the optimum appearance of pulse crops, involves choosing the best variety and then the luck of the weather according to Ryan. Using certified seed can help create a more consistent product and avoid some anomalies. Phil adds that the initial variety and seed selection is very significant to processors and consumers so that initial investment is incredibly significant in the process of pulse growing.
For Phil, the takeaway from this conversation is that “management practice from the farm to the field is so important.” Grading standards and tolerance levels are constantly evolving and are also very significant in verifying a quality product. Jillien supports this by adding that the day to day operations and attention to details will contribute to the grading which then translates to the best market for the producer. Ryan reiterates that this is a “consumer driven market.” He recommends that producers continue to adapt to change as the market evolves and new avenues of use open up.