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History of Pulses

Learn more about pulses in our informative brochure.



"Pulse” is a derivation from the Latin words puls or pultis meaning “thick soup”. Pulse crops are small but important members of the legume family, which contains over 1,800 different species.  Pulse crops are the seeds of legumes that are used as food, and include peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas and faba beans.  Evidence of cultivation of lentils has been found in the Egyptian pyramids and dry pea seeds have been discovered in a village in Switzerland dating back to the Stone Age.  Archaeological evidence suggests that peas were grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century.  

Pulses are an important source of protein, especially in developing countries.  Pulses provide about 10% of the total dietary protein consumed in the world and have about twice the protein content of most cereal grains.  Pea crops were a leading production crop in eastern Canada at the turn of the century, with an average of 720,000 acres (288,000 hectares) grown each year from 1883 to 1902. Production in eastern Canada gradually declined; by 1970, only 82,000 acres were grown in all of Canada with about 70% of that production in Manitoba.  Pulses did not play a significant commercial or economic role in Western Canada until the 1970s, when the wheat glut encouraged farmers to diversify into cash crops such as rapeseed (canola), lentils, peas and other specialty crops. In addition, the registration of herbicides provided a method of weed control in previously uncompetitive pulse crops and the development of new, well-adapted varieties at the Crop Development Centre of the University of Saskatchewan, both of which have contributed to the commercial acceptance of pulse crops.


Changing the Face of Agriculture

At the same time that technological changes and changing economic markets were encouraging the growing of pulses, other changes, including reduced summer fallow acreage, continuous cropping, and direct seeding, were also occuring.  Pulse crops are used to extend and diversify crop rotations, increase available nitrogen, improve soil management and contribute to soil organic matter.  The nitrogen-fixing ability of pulses, improved control of disease and weeds through better rotations, and a trend towards a favourable environmental profile of producers and processors have all contributed to the increase in acreage of pulses in the Canadian prairies. In addition, there has been increased demand for an improved nutritional and energy profile within the industry including the export of a low-glycemic, high protein food and the production of alternative energy fuels such as biodiesel.

Saskatchewan is the heart of Canada's pulse industry, producing around 70% of the country's crop yearly.  Saskatchewan is also the world's leading exporter of peas and lentils and a major supplier of chickpeas.  There are over 100 pulse processors and buyers in Canada, most of which are located in Saskatchewan. The climate of Saskatchewan offers many opportunities for quality pulse production. Cold winters and dry summers limit disease and insect problems and help to keep production costs down. As cereal crops grown on the Prairies are relatively low in value, pulse crop production provides a promising alternative in spite of higher production costs. Other key growing regions are the Mon-Dak region of North Dakota and Montana, Victoria province in Australia and the South-eastern Anatolia region of Turkey.


The Four Fs

The global demand chain for agriculture has been fueled by population explosion, as well as changing key industry drivers.  New industry trends have emerged as a result of food calls for higher nutritional value ingredients, energy calls for alternative fuels, and environmental calls for extension and diversification of crop rotations, increased available nitrogen, improved soil management, and contribution to soil organic matter.  The changing face of agriculture is no longer limited to one sector, but spans across health and nutrition, energy, environment and economic sectors.  

High Protein, Low Glycemic Ingredient
Biodiesel and Ethanol Alternative Energy
Nutritional and Industrial Use
Safe Feedstock for
Livestock Industry


Healthy People. Healthy Planet. Huge Market.

According to Saskatchewan’s State of Trade 2005, Saskatchewan was Canada's largest exporter of peas, lentils, mustard, canary seed and other specialty seed crops.  In terms of value of exports, Saskatchewan was also the largest exporter of lentils, peas, mustard seed and canary seed in the world.  Saskatchewan’s export value for peas and lentils represented approximately $350 million. 

Production from AGT Foods represents nearly 45% of the global market, making us the dominant market exporter in pulses from all origins.