As part of our monthly blog series, Seed Smarts, we sat down with Doug Yeager to ask some candid questions about his farm.

Doug Yeager has been farming his whole life, running his own operation since 2003, but eight years ago he was faced with a completely new challenge – growing pulses.

Based in Choteau, Montana (about 50 miles northwest of Great Falls), his area had traditionally been known for wheat and barley production, but both markets had been softening recently and Doug knew he needed to diversify.

A couple other farmers in his area were starting to make the transition at that time as well, he says, but it was still a challenge.

“Pulses are hard if you come from a cereal crop background,” he says. “What I tell everybody is that everything you know about raising wheat and barley, forget it. You have to reprogram yourself to have to go from one field to the other with a completely different thought process.”

Doug began experimenting with green peas and lentils, doing his own research on production and market opportunities and growing smaller plots to begin with while trying to figure out the weather patterns. But resources were limited.

“A lot of it was school of hard knocks,” he says. “In any area where you start to venture into what we consider a non-traditional crop, those farmers that venture often pay for that learning curve.”

As markets started to emerge for chickpeas in his area, he began to grow those too and found they were a good fit.

“Chickpeas seem to be the best fit for my operations and we’ve really seen the pulse crop market strengthen over the last couple years driven by poor economy of wheat and barley,” he says.

Now it’s been almost a decade since he first tried raising pulses and many other farmers in his area have begun doing the same in the past couple years. And although he admits he still has a lot to learn about growing pulses, he also believes his experience demonstrates one of the traits he considers most important for farmers today – the ability to adapt to new circumstances in order to stay profitable.

He recalls a conversation he had with his dad, also a lifelong farmer, about eight years ago about trying new crops.

“It didn’t make sense to him to take that risk,” he says. “In his lifetime we raised cereal crops, and the wheat market was strong. So his perception was, why would we be trying to raise another crop that we really don’t know when we can raise wheat?”

Doug recalls his response – the same advice that he would give all farmers today.

“There’s going to be another day when wheat doesn’t pay the bills and we are going to have to understand how to raise other crops,” he says. “You can’t go away from what was your bread and butter, and what has been a solid crop throughout history, but you can certainly mix a rotation in.”

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