BLAKE NICHOLSON Associated Press Writer B I SMARCK, N.D.
Leaders in the dry pea and lentil industry are wondering about an Agriculture Department prediction that the size of the crops will drop this year. With the cost of fertilizer soaring, plants like peas that put nitrogen back into the soil rather than take it out might be even more attractive to farmers, they say. "I think when the final deal shakes out, we won't change so much" from last year's acres, said Larry White, marketing director for the Northern Pulse Growers Association. "I think it depends on what fertilizer prices end up as." The association represents growers in North Dakota and Montana, which produce much of the nation's peas and lentils, known as pulse crops because they have pods and seeds. T h e A g r i c u l t u r e Department's March 31 planting report projected pea acres nationwide to drop 3 percent and lentil acres to be down 9 percent. The pea figure was the same and the lentil percentage a little steeper for North Dakota, which leads the nation in the production of both crops. Plaza farmer Mark Kok, the president of the pea and lentil group, said that even with USDA's projected decrease in acres, the size of this year's crop could be considered relatively stable because the reduction would translate into a loss of fewer than 60,000 acres nationwide. Pea and lentil crops are much smaller than such staples as wheat and corn.