Pulses are a key component of strategies to lower the environmental impact of food consumption and production. Governments around the world are highlighting pulses as a key food for a sustainable diet.
Low Carbon Footprint
Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, in large part, come from nitrogen fertilizers. Pulse crops have a lower carbon footprint than most foods, because they require a small amount fertilizer to grow. Pulses have a special relationship with certain soil bacteria that have the ability to convert nitrogen in the air into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. This means that farmers need to add little or no nitrogen fertilizer to grow a pulse crop.
Improved Soil Health
Pulse crops produce a number of different compounds that feed soil microbes and benefit soil health. Crops grow better in soils that are more “alive” with a diverse array of soil organisms, as these organisms break down and cycle nutrients more efficiently, feeding the crops as they grow. In addition, a large, diverse population of soil organisms acts to ‘crowd out’ disease-causing bacteria and fungi, making for healthier plants. Growing pulse crops in a rotation with other crops enables the soil environment to support these large, diverse populations of soil organisms.
Water Use Efficiency
Pulses are a protein source with a very low water footprint. Pulses such as peas, lentils and chickpeas are well-adapted to semi-arid conditions and can tolerate drought stress. Pulse crops also use water in a different way than other crops grown in rotation, extracting water from a shallower depth, leaving more water deep in the soil for the following year’s cereal or oilseed crop.