International visitors to Fargo-based NCI learn how to substitute eggs with peas and other amazing feats.

By Dario Bard

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According to John Crabtree, Assistant Director of the Fargo-based Northern Crops Institute (NCI), North Dakota is witnessing an agricultural revolution. It started 10 to 12 years ago, he says, when significant acreages of corn and soybeans moved into the Red River Valley, a fertile region shared by North Dakota and Minnesota.

“These two states are mostly known for their spring wheat, but now we are seeing new crops emerge, like peas and lentils, which are typically grown in the Pacific Northwest.”

What has this meant for NCI? “Pulses have become an important addition to our educational programs and technical services,” says Crabtree.

“NCI is a cooperative effort between the northern states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana,” explains Mark Weber, NCI’s director. The mission of the institute is to promote the crops produced in this region of the U.S.

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Above: Participants at NCI’s Edible Bean Quality and Utilization Short Course.

“We tell people what kind of crops we grow here, how they can be utilized, and how they can be purchased. We do not teach farmers how to grow crops, but rather how to utilize them. We do this through a series of educational courses where we invite processors, buyers, commodity traders and others from all over the world to come here and learn about what we have to offer. We’ve hosted visitors from 130 different countries.”

NCI crop quality specialist Thunyaporn Jeradechachai hosted a group of food processors from Southeast Asia in mid-May. “We used flour made from dry edible beans, peas and lentils to make a Cheetos-type snack,” she says. “We demonstrated extrusion technology in our laboratory facilities. By doing so, they learned how to make the product, so they can introduce it back home.”

Jeradechachai has also taught other international visitors to make baked goods using pulse flour. “It’s really nutritious and has a lot of health benefits.” Those benefits include high protein and fiber content.

“At NCI, we try to find ways to use pulses in different food products. We are also replacing egg in cookies, cakes and waffles. In pasta, we also can replace egg protein with pea protein.”

Jeradechachai has found new and interesting uses for pea starch, for making noodles and gummi candy, for instance, and as a thickener for ice cream. “On the beverage side, we are making high-protein drinks with pulses, even smoothies. And instead of soymilk, we have pea milk, which is really nutritious and low in allergens.”

NCI receives its funding from the four-state commodity groups and the legislatures of each participating state. “We have an unusual situation here,” remarks Crabtree, “because we have other states appropriating dollars to the Institute.” In 1981, thanks to the backing of growers, the North Dakota State Legislature appropriated dollars for the construction of the NCI facility on the campus of North Dakota State University (NDSU).


Left to right: Assistant Director John Crabtree, Crop Quality Specialist Thunyaporn Jeradechachai, Technical Services and Business Development Director David Hahn and Director Mark Weber.

“When commodity organizations in the neighboring states learned of the groundbreaking, they decided to join forces with us because they basically grow the same crops. So all four states, through the commodity groups or state funds, provide dollars to keep NCI going.”

“We also partner with the scientific community,” adds Weber. “One of the advantages of being located on the campus of North Dakota State University is that we can draw from the tremendous wealth of experience from the various professors of the departments we work with, including the Food and Cereal Science Department, the Agribusiness and Economics Department, and other departments on campus. We use that expertise when we host educational courses. University professors give lectures and provide laboratory demonstrations. We also draw expertise from the other land-grant universities in this region: the University of Minnesota, South Dakota State University and Montana State University.”

One such contribution from the academic world is NDSU’s Commodity Trading Room run by Dr. William Wilson, a distinguished professor from the Agribusiness and Economics Department.

Commodity trading has changed significantly over the years, particularly with the shift from government buying to private trading,” says Crabtree. “And we’ve seen significant changes worldwide in agriculture as far as uses. Ethanol, for instance, has changed the whole complexity of the corn market. We are probably up to 45% now of the corn being used in the ethanol industry here in the United States. This has created a lot of volatility in the markets which has increased risk for commodity merchandisers.”

In the Commodity Trading Room, Wilson uses computer simulations of market scenarios to teach participants risk-management strategies, such as hedging and the use of options and derivatives.

“This is the only trading room devoted to agriculture,” notes Crabtree. “Dr. Wilson modeled it after an energy trading room at Tulane University.” The Commodity Trading Room offers tailored made courses that can range from 3 days to a week, depending on the client’s needs. Interested parties are encouraged to contact NCI for details.


Above: Dr. William Wilson leads a discussion at the Electronic Commodity Trading Room.

“This region leads the U.S. in the production of about 13 or 14 different crops,” says Weber. “We have very diverse agriculture in this northern region.” Given this agricultural wealth, it is perhaps no surprise that an institute of NCI’s caliber was established in Fargo, North Dakota.

“There are only three or four similar institutes like NCI in the world,” observes Crabtree.

More Info?

Read more about the pulse products developed by NCI for the Northern Pulse Growers Association. Watch online videos of Dr. William Wilson on NDSU’s Commodity Trading Room YouTube Channel.

For additional information on the Commodity Trading Room and other NCI programs, contact NCI at or visit the NCI Website at