Improving Environmental and Economic Sustainability Outcomes through Incorporation of Pulses into Irrigated and Dryland Crop Rotations

Project Overview

The goal of this project is to quantify the potential of pulse crops (specifically, dry peas, lentils, and cowpeas) to improve environmental and economic sustainability through incorporation into both dryland and irrigated wheat rotations in semi-arid and arid climates. The power of this proposal is two-fold:

  • a) 3-year crop rotations with each crop represented in each year (as part of a 4-yr project) in two different parts of Colorado (semi-arid, dryland rotations in eastern Colorado and arid, irrigated rotations in western Colorado) and
  • b) in the broad evaluation of sustainability measurements (water, carbon, nitrogen, and economics) which are then applied to a thorough life cycle analysis and dietary impact analysis. In each region, we have formulated crop rotations that include pulses and address growers’ specific goals (replacing fallow in eastern Colorado and summer water leasing in western Colorado).


To tackle this ambitious goal, we have brought a multi-disciplinary team together and formulated the following Objectives:

  1. Measure water use by peas, lentils, cowpeas, wheat, millet, and corn and determine how the addition of pulse crops into the rotations could affect the water footprint and water use efficiency of both dryland and irrigated cropping systems.
  2. Monitor the impact of pulses on soil carbon sequestration and soil health.
  3. Evaluate the impact of peas, lentils, and cowpeas on plant N concentrations, residual soil N, nodule and rhizosphere community composition, and plant-rhizobia interactions.
  4.  Complete a cradle-to-farmgate life cycle analysis (LCA) of pulses produced in each rotation to identify opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
  5. Quantify the economic impact of adding pulses to cropping systems to verify whether they could be economically sustainable.
  6. Evaluate the impacts of incorporating pulses in U.S. diets at varying levels on environmental and nutritional outcomes.

Our objectives align exactly with the priority areas under Sustainability of Pulse Production Systems, and we have added an additional objective to address economic sustainability (#5). Without economic sustainability, we will not be able to achieve our environmental or nutritional goals. To enhance pulse consumption and achieve health outcomes, we must first increase pulse production while achieving sustainability in all its facets.


  • Jessica G. Davis, Professor, Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Perry E. Cabot, Extension Professor, Colorado Water Center, CSU Extension, CSU AES
  • Jasmine Dillon. Asst. Professor, Beef & Dairy Agroecosystems, Colorado State University
  • Steven Fonte, Assoc. Professor, Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University
  • Daniel Mooney, Asst. Professor, Ag and Resource Economics, Colorado State University
  • Joel Schneekloth, Master Instructor, Colorado Water Center, CSU Extension
  • Jorge Vivanco, Professor, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University



This project is supported with funding from the USDA ARS Pulse Crop Health Initiative Research Project Plan.