C magazine

Growing paw-portunities: Pet food drives demand for yellow peas

Two dogs eating from a bowl

Sep 01, 2020

If there is one topic most Americans agree on, it’s their love of four-legged companions. They’ll go to great lengths to ensure their dogs are part of the farm and ranch family, from providing a soft place to rest at the end of a hard day to the chance to ride shotgun on endless pickup rides. That love and compassion and an increase in the number of households with pets worldwide is fueling the pet industry’s growth and providing crop marketing opportunities. 

“The pet food market has given us an avenue to sell our peas,” says Lee Pawlowski, who grows spring wheat, corn, durum, flax, mustard, sunflowers and a variety of pulses near Circle, Mont., with his father and brother.

Lee Pawlowski, left, raises wheat, corn, mustard and a variety of peas and lentils in Circle, Mont. He and his wife, Hayley, right, welcomed their daughter, Juniper, in February. (Image courtesy of Hayley Heser Photography)

They began growing dry peas in 2008. “Yellow peas were the start of implementing different rotations in our fields,” says Pawlowski. “We were raising spring wheat, durum and barley and our yields just weren’t there. Peas seemed to be the answer.” 

The Pawlowskis started off small, planting about 100 to 200 acres of yellow and forage peas. By 2013, they were up to 1,200 acres of various varieties.

“Peas have really improved our soil health and the earlier harvest window makes them easier to manage,” he says. Dry peas are typically harvested in late July.  

While the Pawlowskis have slightly decreased their pea acres in response to increased tariffs on pulse and pea exports to India, “demand for plant-based protein and pet food has kept peas a viable crop for us to grow,” says Pawlowski. “Between tariffs and current economic factors, peas might have become a stalemate if it weren’t for the pet food market.”

Pawlowski Brothers Incorporated sells about half its pea production to CHS Farmers Elevator in Circle, Mont., where Pawlowski serves on the producer board. The other half goes directly to protein foods processors. CHS Farmers Elevator handles about 2 million bushels of yellow peas annually, selling most to U.S. pet food manufacturers, says David Barbula, the co-op’s merchandiser. “We also have a small amount that is loaded into containers and shipped to Asia.”

Market Growth

“Peas received some bad press a few years ago when the FDA warned that pet food with large portions of peas could potentially cause heart issues in dogs,” says Mickie Dent, a procurement merchandiser of specialty grains with CHS Global Grain Marketing who works with CHS Farmers Elevator and other cooperatives to source peas for buyers in the U.S. pet food market.

The FDA hasn’t released evidence to support the claim and Dent says that while there was some effect on the market, overall demand for dry peas has remained steady.

“Peas will continue to be a staple in pet food unless they are proven unsafe; they’re price-competitive and a good source of protein,” says Nathan Green, vice president of merchant trading for LinkOne Ingredient Solutions based in Monett, Mo. 

All the peas and about 80 percent of the canola oil Green purchases from CHS are used by pet food manufacturers, he says. “We also buy dry beans and millet from CHS for the pet food market. CHS is one of our largest suppliers of pet food ingredients.”

The U.S. pet food market is steadily growing 3 to 5 percent year over year, Green adds. “The U.S. leads in having furry animals as companions, but pet ownership is growing in China and South America, too.” 

Upward Trends

About 67 percent of U.S. households include a pet, compared to 11 percent in 1988, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). When COVID-19 reached the U.S. earlier this year, families flocked to animal shelters to adopt new friends. Many shelters across the country announced for the first time that all available animals had been adopted.

Rich in protein, vitamins and fiber, dry yellow peas are a popular ingredient in grain-free pet food.

The amount of money families are willing to spend on their furry companions is rising, too. Americans spent an all-time high of more than $95 billion on their pets in 2019, with pet food and treats representing the largest category, APPA reports. 

“Consumers are paying closer attention to pet food ingredients. Many are willing to pay more for higher-end ingredients,” says Wyn Johnson, territory sales manager for Consumers Supply Distributing, a wholesale distributor and manufacturer of agricultural and animal nutrition products based in Sioux City, Iowa. 

CHS entered a joint venture to create Consumers Supply Distributing, LLC, in 2012. “It was a natural fit to combine our expertise,” says Jon Peterson, operations manager, CHS Nutrition. “The relationship increased distribution efficiencies and opportunities to grow our businesses and meet our customers’ livestock and companion animal nutrition needs.”

Nutritious Ingredients

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“Pet food trends tend to follow human food trends,” says Johnson. “There’s growing demand for plant-based proteins and natural ingredients in human food and we’re seeing that carry over to pet food. The Country Vet® line of premium dog foods had been our most popular line until a few years ago. Now our Naturals line has taken over, especially in the Pacific Northwest.”

Cody Dallas, feed department manager at the Mountain View Co-op feed store in Black Eagle, Mont., is seeing the same trend. “Mountain View has five retail locations that carry Country Vet dog foods and the Naturals line is by far the most popular, even in our small farm and ranch communities.” 

The Country Vet Naturals line includes a grain-free option with peas as one of the main ingredients. “Consumers are looking for what fits their dogs’ needs and the best ingredients to keep them happy and healthy,” says Dallas.

There’s no sign the pet products market has reached its peak. APPA estimates the industry will see a $3 billion increase in sales this year, with half attributed to pet foods and treats. As pets become more popular outside the U.S. and plant-based protein demand in animal feed and human food grows, says Dent, yellow peas will become an even hotter commodity. 

Demand for dry peas grows


The U.S. is one of the largest exporters of dry peas and other pulses. “There’s a big market for peas in China,” says Yuxi Weng, grain merchandiser, CHS Global Grain Marketing.

As a significant source of protein, yellow peas are valuable ingredients in livestock feed and pet foods. 

“Two to three years ago, Chinese feed mills started using yellow peas in feed production as a replacement for corn and soymeal, which has really increased demand,” says Bobo Jiang, a grain marketer with CHS Global Grain Marketing based in Shanghai. 

“Yellow peas and green peas are also used for human consumption,” says Jiang. “Yellow peas are used to produce glass noodles, a popular ingredient in Chinese dishes, and puffed green peas are a common snack here.”

“In the past, we’ve typically shipped yellow peas in containers,” says Weng. A standard 20-foot container holds about 25 metric tons of dry peas. “But as demand grows, China has begun purchasing peas from CHS by bulk vessel.”


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