USA Dry Pea, Lentil & Chickpea Production
Cool season food pulses, including dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas, are an important feature of the dry farm lands of the western U.S. The two principal growing regions include the Northern Plains, comprised of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and the Palouse, which includes eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and northeastern Oregon.
Lentil production began in the Palouse in 1916, dry pea production in the 1920s, and chickpea production in 1981. The region offered excellent growing conditions and a growing season with annual rainfall of 15 inches to 24 inches (400 mm to 600 mm), most of which fell in the fall and winter months.
More recently, the Northern Plains region has become an increasingly important production area. Since the 1990s, the lion’s share of U.S. food legume production has moved from the rolling hills and loess soils east of the Palouse into the Northern Plains region, where pulses went well with the established crop rotation.
By 2009, North Dakota had become the largest producer of pulse crops in the U.S. Montana occupies the second position, cultivating the greatest number of yellow peas in the U.S., in addition to significant acreage devoted to lentils. Pacific Northwest farms in Washington and Idaho remain the largest producers of green peas and chick-peas. For U.S. production numbers for 2008, see tables on pages 45-54.
In those areas that receive sufficient rainfall to support annual cropping, food pulses continue to replace summer fallow. The region boasts considerable potential and its role as an important producer of dry peas and lentils is expected to continue. Meanwhile, the range of U.S. food pulse varieties has changed over time and is likely to continue to evolve as breeding programs develop improved types.
The field history is an important consideration in pulse production. To allow for proper site preparation, the decision to grow pulses in a given field is usually made a year or two in advance. Approached this way, the “pre-plant” period for any field includes each of the production seasons that followed the previous pulse crop and the late fall, winter, and early spring that preceded planting of the pulse crop.
The previous crop is especially important if the pulse crops are directly seeded into stubble. Sowing pulses into clean fields is preferred, but pulses are frequently seeded on stubble. In such situations, weed competition is often an issue and can be complicated further by volunteer plant growth.
Seed selection includes considerations like crop quality potential, adaptability to the planting conditions (i.e., disease and environment), and improvement in the overall rotation—both economic and environmental.
Some varieties are well adapted to particular regions due to maturity rate, disease resistance, blooming date, and tolerance to temperature variations. Other considerations are based on quality such as color consistency, resistance to bleach and pod shatter, harvestability, and handling concerns like cracking during shipment. Pulses are best grown following a cereal crop like winter wheat or spring barley as cereals are less likely to carry pulse diseases.
Another benefit of planting pulse crops in rotation with cereals is that cereal crop yields often increase due to cereal pest (disease, insect, and weed) cycles being disrupted. In addition, food pulses conserve soil moisture and limit soil erosion by offering an option other than summer fallow. Pulses also increase the nitrogen content of the soil. This is a significant consideration, providing value to the producer in addition to the crop.
When it comes to seeding, maintaining firm seed-to-soil contact is critical, making moist soil, and the avoidance of dry soil, a critical step. Most pulse seeds can emerge from deep seeding depths due to their large size. Deep seeding is not a necessity provided that the seed is placed in firm, moist soil.
After planting, pulse crop beds are rolled to smooth the soil surface. This improves the harvest rate by reducing losses and break-age of low-hanging pods at harvest. Rolling also buries rocks, making harvest easier and safer. Harvest typically takes place in August. The crop must dry out on the vine to a certain degree first, which usually occurs without the aid of chemicals.
Chemicals that aid drying are, however, important during cool, wet summers when natural drying is not possible. Waiting for natural drying to occur can lead to pod shattering, sprouting, seed coat slough, and seed bleaching. When weeds are not a problem, dry peas and lentils are mechanically swathed or direct harvested.
India is the world’s major producer of food grain pulses (about 13 million tons in 2003/2004): chickpeas (5.3 million tons), lentils (0.8 million tons), dry beans (about 3 million tons), and other pulses. Canada, Australia, and Turkey are the main world suppliers of chickpeas and lentils. Approximately 75 percent of U.S. cool season food pulses are exported.
Most U.S. pulses are used for food either as whole pulses, as with decorticated Crimson and Red Chief lentils, or as decorticated and split peas, as seen with green and yellow dry peas. New and novel uses, including incorporation into starches and snack items, continue to grow as interest in these healthy, versatile foods increases.
Given such developments, the future for food pulses in the U.S. looks bright. There is considerable room for expansion of production in the Dakotas, Montana, and the western states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. The trend to replace summer fallow in these states is opening additional acreage for legume production to meet increasing demand.
Finally, as of this writing none of the pulses available worldwide are genetically modified, and there are no plans to begin production of such pulses.
Environmental Benefits of Pulses
While cool season pulses directly contribute to the economy of the Palouse, the Northern Plains, and other U.S. production areas, they also contribute indirectly through their positive effects on other crops. Dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas are typically grown in rotation (i.e., alternating years) with cereal grains. In contrast to dry beans, the cooler weather preferred by pulses during the growing season, especially at bloom, fits well with the climates conducive to small grains like wheat or barley.
The crop rotation strategy boasts a number of advantages. The pairing with grains reduces the potential for diseases and helps to control weeds, insects, and other pests in both crops. The grains also benefit from the increased nitrogen and other nutrient values in the soil after rotation with lentils, dry peas, or chickpeas.
Pulses produce their own nitrogen from the atmosphere through a symbiotic relationship with a soil bacterium. As a result, commercial nitrogen applications are unnecessary or significantly reduced for the pulse crops. The same is true with regard to the need for commercial nitrogen or other fertilizers in the grain crops, which can utilize the remaining nitrogen in the soil to reduce the input cost for the producer. Reduced nitrogen applications also reduce the use of the natural gas necessary to produce the nitrogen, thereby helping reduce greenhouse gas production. For both the producer and the environment, using nitrogen produced by the plant is a much better approach and promises a smaller ecological impact.
The Harvesting of Pulses
The harvesting of a cool season pulse crop consists of a single pass with a combine, a mechanical harvesting device that integrates many operations. It cuts the plant from the ground, separates the seeds from the rest of the foliage, distributes the residue across the field, and transfers the resulting product to a storage bin via a truck. In the U.S., the harvest generally begins in August and is conducted through September.
Harvesting of lentils, dry peas, and chickpeas is carefully timed. Using the combine on the crop prematurely can result in an immature, underdeveloped crop. Harvest the crops too late and the excessive dryness can cause crop loss due to the shatter of the pods prior to or during harvest.
Moisture Content of Harvested Material
Ideal harvest timing includes waiting for moisture content to be acceptable for storage. Harvesting too early can result in a product with too much moisture content for storage, making it prone to spoilage.
The crop is usually cut when the product is not yet ready to shatter but dry enough to store without damage. No product is stored at more than 15 percent moisture, with 12 percent or less being the optimum moisture level for a harvested crop.
Differences in Harvest Times
Although dry pea, lentil, and chickpea crops are relatively drought-tolerant, both the timing and amount of precipitation affect growing duration and the scheduling of harvest times. In the Palouse, for example, late-season rains after July 15 will delay harvest, while early-season drought prior to July 1 will significantly accelerate harvest dates. Planting is typically done in April and May, with an August harvest.
In Idaho and Washington, dry pea crop maturity is reached about 100 days after emergence, with harvest starting in late July when pods are dry and seed moisture is less than 13 percent. The peas are harvested directly in the field. In the Northern Plains, the planting date and harvest dates are typically two to three weeks later because of colder winter soil temperatures. Harvest is typically starts in August and completes in early September.
Lentil crops also reach maturity about 100 days after emergence, with harvest in mid-August, when the crop is swathed and then combined. In Washington, lentils bloom approximately 60 days after crop emergence and all varieties are harvested in August, being cut and swathed into windrows approximately one week before combining.
Swathing of lentils in the Northern Plains in Montana and North Dakota is risky due to frequent wind storms, which would blow away the windrows. Lentils are cut directly by the combine in this region. In all cases, a timely harvest is critical to avoid seed bleaching, seed shatter and post-maturity disease. All of these issues degrade the quality of the crop and reduce the yield.
Once the pulse has been threshed, the seeds must be carefully stored prior to delivery to the processing plant. Excessive heat can lead to discoloration. Excessive moisture can result in mold and fungal problems. Clean, protected facilities and aeration during periodic transfers from one storage bin to another help guard against post-harvest pest infestation or damage.
When properly selected, pulses can be safely kept in storage for long periods of time without deterioration, allowing end-users to buy in bulk. With dry peas, the pea weevil can emerge during post-harvest storage, leaving damaged seeds that must be separated in processing. The pea weevil is most effectively controlled in the field during the growing season, helping prevent higher processing costs. Generally, all peas are held long enough to allow for the emergence of the pea weevil larvae prior to processing.
Seed moisture must be carefully watched when storing pulses to prevent disease or damage. Peas can safely be stored at 15 percent moisture, chickpeas and lentils at 14 percent. If moisture levels are too high, grain dryers are often used, though always with extreme caution as they can cause mechanical and thermal damage to pulse crops. Moisture is tested several times during the first few weeks of storage to maintain proper levels and to prevent seed sweating. Aeration is used to cool and dry the seed and to avoid storage complications.
A significant amount of the chickpea crop remains at least for a short time stored on the farm before being delivered to the processor. Once chickpea seed is harvested, its outside seed coat usually has a lower moisture level than the inside of the seed. But if left to sit in the storage bin, the moisture level can balance out (also called tempering or sweating), causing the overall moisture level to rise.
In this way, chickpeas that were harvested at a safe moisture level can just a week later exceed the recommended 14 percent level. Left untreated, the crop can spoil. For this reason, chickpea producers often store the crop in a hopper-bottomed bin that has aeration, which can help bring down the moisture level.
Lentils are also commonly stored on the farm for a time before delivery to the processor. As with chickpeas, it is most common for lentils to be stored in a hopper-bottomed bin with aeration. If the crop includes a great deal of green weed seeds, the lentils, though safely stored at 14 percent moisture, are typically cleaned or aerated as soon as possible after harvest to prevent heat damage. Lentil varieties with green seed coats will discolor with age, decreasing the grade and price of the crop.
If they are not kept in cool, dark conditions at a moisture content at or below 14 percent, those lentils with green seed coats can discolor as tannins within the seed coat oxidize. Other factors such as high humidity and high temperatures can also cause color change. In each case, such changes in color impact the grade and price received for the crop.
Moisture levels up to 16 percent and temperatures below 59 degrees F (15 degrees C) are considered safe for dry pea storage. If supplemental heat drying is necessary, air temperatures are kept below 109 degrees F (43 degrees C) to preserve germination. Temperatures up to 158 degrees F (70 degrees C) should only be used for drying feed peas. A great deal of respiration occurs in pea seed after it is placed in storage.
Dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas can be safely stored for three to four years. Storage lengths of this duration can, however, result in color loss, moisture absorption, and desorption as well as hardness or case hardness issues.
Deterioration Factors and Their Control
As noted above, moisture control via temperature control and proper aeration can minimize crop loss due to deterioration. Exposure to sunlight can also cause a degradation in color. Good storage facilities maintain the product by protecting it from direct sunlight.
Care needs to be taken when handling chickpea seed in order not to damage the beak or crack the seed coat, which impact the quality. This is especially important under conditions of extreme cold. The cold can damage the seed coat by causing it to become quite fragile and crack easily when handled. Many pulse producers forego use of the typical grain auger and elect to use a conveyor to transport the chickpea to the bin to minimize the risk of damaging the seed.
Similar sensitivity is shown when handling lentil seed to avoid cracking the seed coat. In fact, handling is minimized where possible and the use of conveyors favored. Extremely dry seed can be tempered in the spring before seeding to decrease the risk of mechanical damage. The lentil seed coat, like pea seed, is prone to greater fragility under extreme cold and can crack easily when handled.
Methods of Reducing Deterioration
Handling and storage procedures described above reduce deterioration due to seed coat damage or heat. Pesticide and fungicide use is minimized when pre-harvest and post-harvest controls are carefully monitored. In addition to reducing the cost of storage, limited chemical use maintains the crop well below maximum residue limits (MRLs).
Quality Control Procedures
Quality control begins with the seed source. Producers generally work with the processor to select the best varieties from reliable seed producers to ensure the harvested product is the best quality and offers good, marketable traits.
Product Grading Standards
The inspection of pulses is a service provided under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. It is offered upon request by either a Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) designated cooperator (e.g., the State of Washington) or an FGIS field office, depending upon the location of the lot and the type of inspection requested. Official inspections are performed by trained and licensed (or authorized) official personnel employed by FGIS or a cooperator.
The U.S. Grade Standards provide the produce industry with the uniform language for describing the quality and condition of commodities in the marketplace. In partnership with industry members, the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and revises these standards so that they always reflect modern business practices.
The USDA post-harvest inspection standards assess insect infestation, color, odor, moisture content, standardization in size and color, and many other factors. FGIS provides a system by which grain can be tested and graded anywhere in the U.S. under consistent and uniform procedures. Inspections involve securing a representative sample from each lot and classifying each of the individual peas or lentils in accordance with the established grades. The inspector’s report shows the percentage of peas or lentils in each of the various grades. Application of the standards requires the services of private or official inspectors.
Crops are tested for pesticide and fungicide residue and are not allowed to exceed set limits for these factors. Strict sampling standards ensure proper grading of the product. Dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas are sampled first for insect infestation and are not sampled for other factors if sufficient evidence of infestation is found. Special care is typically taken to protect samples from manipulation, substitution, and improper handling.
There are many ways in which a sample may lose its representativeness. A sample will no longer be considered representative if it is:
- Spilled, no matter how little is lost or how much could be recovered.
- Stored in an improper manner or in an area not under the control of official personnel.
- Not analyzed on the same day as it is obtained and stored in a cool, dry place to prevent any change in condition.
- Transported by means that do not ensure the integrity of the sample.
When marketing food-grade dry peas, numerous factors affect market grade, including market class (e.g., green or yellow cotyledon, specialty types), seed size and shape, splitting potential, harvest moisture, seed handling techniques during harvest and storage, and seed damage factors (e.g., bleach, cracked seed coats, splits, shriveled seed, earth tag, chalk spot, etc.).
For green peas, the most important grading factor for the human market is seed color. Green varieties are susceptible to bleaching as they near maturity, often caused by high humidity, bright sunshine, and warm temperatures. Other major factors in downgrading pea quality include soil particles, splits, cracked seed coats and shriveled, immature seed.
Unlike other pulses, decorticated lentils (i.e., lentils from which the hulls have been removed) are treated as a processed product and are considered a non-standardized commodity. They may be inspected for quality factors (e.g., damaged kernels, skinned lentils, etc.) but not graded.
For inspected pulses, a certificate is issued for the individual lot or submitted sample whether for kind, class, grade, factor analysis, equal-to-type, or other quality designations as defined in the standards or instructions, or for any other approved services performed. Other services that may be shown on the certificate include check weighing, check loading, check counting, condition of food containers, plant approval, and observation of loading.
In response to its continued growth, the USDA began tracking overall organic food production in 2009. U.S. organic food sales amount to approximately 4.5 percent of total food sales, though the portion that is made up of organic pulses remains uncertain. As organic pulses have only recently begun to attract attention, there remains a dearth of market statistics. A significant portion are grown as a green manure, cover, or forage crop, and less for human consumption.
At the retail level, overall organic sales have grown 15 percent to 20 percent each year for the past couple of decades, led most recently by dairy and meat. The dramatic growth in dairy is an indicator that many more organic feed peas are grown now than were grown 10 years ago. Peas are, in fact, likely the largest organic pulse crop as they are relied on by larger organic farmers as an important feature of their crop rotation plan to increase the quality of the subsequent wheat crop.
Though a definite figure has not yet been established by the USDA, it is estimated that the number of acres devoted to the production of organic pulse crops is in the thousands—about 1.5 percent of total agricultural acreage. In 2001, according to the USDA, certified organic dry peas and lentils were grown on more than 9,300 acres. North Dakota led with over 3,500 acres. Organic dry peas and lentils accounted for approximately two percent of the total dry pea and lentil acreage in the U.S. The European Union total is about equal to the U.S. market for organic sales, though its percentage of organic food sales to total sales is larger.
Much of the overall organic food consumed in the U.S. is imported from producers outside the U.S. Currently, a significant quantity of those organic pulses are imported from Canada, Turkey, India, China, and South America. Foreign organic pulse production has always been larger than domestic U.S. production, with Canada, Australia, Turkey and India being key producers.
The challenges of organic pulse farming include the following:
- Organic farmers cannot use synthetic herbicides or pesticides, so weed pressure is always an issue. Chickpeas are a particular challenge since toxic or synthetic seed treatments are prohibited, highlighting the risk of ascochyta blight.
- Organic farmers are required to use organic seed when available. Seeding rates also tend to be higher than for cereal grains, meaning that seed costs per acre are significantly higher for organic pulses than for organic wheat.
- The organic pulse market remains niche in size. As a result, there are a limited number of buyers in a given region and often no local markets for feed-grade product.
- Organic edible legume markets tend to be very quality sensitive, making it difficult to sell anything less than a top-grade lentil in most years.
- Competition is aggressive in both domestic and foreign markets.
- There is little university research on organic pulse production and organic variety development.
All indications are that organic markets at the retail sales level will continue to grow at 10 percent to 20 percent per annum for the foreseeable future. Expectations are that demand for organic food will continue to outpace growth in all other food categories. This, combined with the increasing awareness of the connection between diet and health, suggests that the demand for organic pulses will also increase and that organic pulse production will grow as an important, albeit small, part of overall production.
Dry Peas Soil and Seeding
Dry peas can be grown in a wide range of soil types, from light sandy to heavy clay. Despite having moisture requirements similar to those of cereal grains, dry peas have a lower tolerance to saline and water-logged soil conditions than do cereal grains. Because they can die after 24 to 48 hours in a water-logged condition, dry peas are not planted in poorly drained or saline or alkaline soils.
At the same time, maintaining firm seed-to-soil moisture contact is critical as dry peas rely on stored soil moisture for a large part of their growth cycle. A seeding depth of one to three inches is customary.
Seedbed preparation is also essential for dry peas. Traditionally, a finely worked, firm seedbed is prepared for use with pre-plant herbicides. After seeding, a packer is used to smooth and firm the soil surface for good seed-to-soil contact. A plant stand of 15 to 20 plants per square foot after emergence is desired for optimum yield.
Dry peas are self-pollinating and emerge and perform well in a variety of seedbeds, including direct seeding into grain residue. They are typically grown following cereal crops like winter wheat or spring barley. Most are spring-seeded, with optimal planting dates ranging from mid-March to mid-May when soil temperatures are above 40 degrees F (4 degrees C).
Emergence normally takes 10 to 14 days. Pea roots can grow to a depth of three to four feet, though more than 75 percent of the root biomass resides within two feet of the soil surface. The older, bottom pods mature first, and the crop is at maturity when all pods are yellow to tan in color. During hot, dry weather, peas mature very rapidly. Because high temperatures during blossoming results in reduced seed set, production of dry pea as a summer annual in the U.S. is limited to the northern states.
Due to the prostrate vines that some varieties develop by the time they reach maturity, dry pea plants can be difficult to harvest. Increasingly, growers prefer a dry pea variety that stands upright at harvest, such as the semi-leafless types with shorter vines, because they allow a faster harvest, minimal equipment modification, and higher quality seed.
Pea crops are monitored closely to determine the proper stage for harvest. In most cases, plants mature from the bottom up. They are near maturity when the bottom 30 percent of the pods are ripe, the middle 40 percent of pods and vines are yellow, and the upper 30 percent of pods are in the process of turning yellow.
Dry peas are usually harvested the same time as wheat, or as soon as the seed is hard. If harvesting is delayed, seeds may shatter. To reduce such losses dry pea harvesting is typically carried out before all pods are dry, or at night or early morning, when pods are wet with dew. Because dry peas do not ripen as uniformly as other crops, it can be necessary to harvest while there are green leaves and pods remaining.
Harvest usually begins in late July when seed moisture is 8 percent to 18 percent, depending upon the growing region. Harvest of determinate varieties occurs when the bottom peas rattle in the tan to brown pods, the middle and top pods are yellow to tan, and the seeds are firm and shrunken. They are harvested directly in the field, with each pod typically containing six to eight mature peas.
Dry peas rank fourth in terms of the world production of food pulses below soybeans, peanuts, and dry beans. Yellow peas and green peas, along with other minor classes, are the most commonly grown, with yellow peas accounting for approximately two-thirds of U.S. production.
The largest use of dry peas in Europe and North America is in the compound feed industry, whereby whole seeds are ground and mixed with ground cereal seeds to produce feeds.
In 2004, dry peas were produced in over 84 different countries for a total world production of approximately 11.91 million metric tons. Canada, France, and China, are the major dry pea producers in the world followed by Russia, India, and the United States.
From 1993 to 2002, world dry pea production steadily declined to a low of 9.859 million metric tons. As of 2008, total production worldwide is estimated to be 10.3 million metric tons.
About 2.5 million metric tons were exported in 2003. Over 140 countries imported dry peas in that year. Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States raise nearly 4.5 million acres and are the major exporters of dry peas.
The U.S. accounted for just over four percent of world dry pea production in 2004. Acreage devoted to dry peas is on the increase, rising from 149,000 acres in 1993 to a record high 530,000 acres in 2004. By 2006, there were approximately 924,174 acres of field peas grown in the U.S. Because of their high quality, U.S. dry peas are used primarily for human consumption.
For years, U.S. dry peas were primarily grown in the Palouse region of Washington and Idaho. In the 1990s, North Dakota and Montana began production efforts of their own. In 1991, North Dakota planted about 1,600 acres of dry peas. By 2002, the state produced 47 percent of total U.S. output, followed by Washington at 31 percent, Idaho 15 percent, Montana five percent, and Oregon two percent.
Total U.S. production of dry peas reached approximately 517,962 metric tons in 2004, nearly doubling the previous record high of 269,164 metric tons recorded in 1998.
North Dakota’s role in dry pea production continued to grow in the new century, reaching 610,350 acres by 2006, fully 66 percent of total U.S. production.
More than 70 percent of the total U.S. dry pea production is exported to India, China, and Spain for food and feed processing.
Lentils Soil and Seeding
For lentils, the seeding depth should be 1.2 inches to 3 inches. Proper packing after seeding is very important to make the ground smooth and even for harvest, and it also helps prevent moisture loss. While tolerant to frost, lentil seedlings are very sensitive to wind damage. In such cases, new lentil seedlings will typically emerge from nodes beneath the surface.
Performing well in a variety of seedbeds, lentils are often seeded directly into grain residue or standing stubble if residues are insufficient to protect the soil surface. They are typically grown following winter wheat or spring barley.
Usually sown in late April or early May, lentils are most successful when soil temperatures are above 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). In North America, lentils are planted in early spring and harvested in late summer. By seeding early, farmers are able to increase the height and size of the plant at first bloom. Lentils planted after April typically result in a lower crop quality and smaller seed yields.
Lentils are drilled in rows six to seven inches apart. The crop is adapted to grow during the cool season and in most of the production region lentils rely on stored soil moisture for a large part of their growth cycle.
Lentils are self-pollinating, as with other pulses, lentils start flowering after a specific number of nodes have been reached and continue until drought or nitrogen deficiency ends flowering. Maturity is reached about 100 days after emergence.
No drying is necessary, as the crop naturally dries in the field. All varieties are harvested in August and September. Lentils are cut and swathed into windrows approximately one week before harvesting to dry down the weeds and the lentils in instances of uneven crop maturity or heavy weed infestation. Swathing improves moisture uniformity of the lentil seed and reduces the amount of seed discoloration.
Swathing occurs when about 30 percent of the lowermost pods turn tan and their seeds rattle. Doing so under conditions of higher humidity may reduce shattering. Lentils can also be straight-cut (i.e., meaning one-pass with the same implement cuts and harvests the seed from the pods).
Swathers or straight-cut combines are best equipped with a flex header, or a pick-up reel and vine lifters, since lentil plants tend to lay quite at on the ground at harvest.
Because dry seed is prone to chipping and peeling during threshing, producers try to thresh at about 18 percent moisture and use aeration to dry the sample to 14 percent for safe storage.
Harvested lentils are shipped back to the buyer from the farm and then shipped to market or further processed per specifications of the buyer. Processing can entail hulling and splitting of the lentil before shipping. As a food, lentils can be stored indefinitely in a cool, dry place without losing nutritional value, taste, or freshness.
Disease pressure limits the crop rotation for lentils to once every three to four years.
Nearly 90 percent of the lentil crop in the U.S. is exported, although domestic consumption is on the rise. Export markets include Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Recent niche markets for small Spanish brown lentils (Pardina variety, grown for sale to Spain) and red lentils (Crimson variety, grown for sale to the Asian market) have provided greater profitability than the traditional large yellow cotyledon (Brewer variety) market. An increasing number of acres in the U.S. are being seeded with specialty lentils like the Pardina and Crimson.
Chickpeas Soil and Seeding
Seeding rates for chickpeas tend to provide three (Kabuli) to four (Desi) plants per square foot to help promote adequate seed size at harvest. Seeding depth is about 1 inch below moisture for Desi and up to 2 inches below moisture for Kabuli chickpeas, though Kabulis can be planted down to 4 inches to use available soil moisture for germination.
The chickpea has deeper taproots than peas and lentils, giving it more drought tolerance. Chickpea resistance to early or late frost is similar to that of peas and lentils, with chickpeas offering a higher temperature tolerance during flowering than peas. Plant height of the Kabuli ranges from 14 to 22 inches and from 10 to 20 inches with Desi types. Kabuli chickpeas generally mature two weeks after Desi types.
Seed color is the most significant factor in determining a chickpea crop’s marketability as dark or discolored seed coats may make them unacceptable to food processors. Decisions such as harvest timing and methods have the greatest impact on developing seeds with the light yellowish cream color preferred by the market.
It is also important that the small protruding beak-like structure that distinguishes chickpeas must not be damaged during harvesting. Chickpeas can be harvested at 18 percent moisture and stored at 14 percent seed moisture.
Chickpea plants are distinguished by stiff stems and generally upright growth, with pods developing several inches above ground. There is a threat of pod loss if there is a break in the small stem that attaches the pod to the plant. Pod shattering, on the other hand, is not as common as in some other pulses.
Chickpeas are usually straight-cut but can be swathed ahead of the combine if straight cut equipment is not available. To reduce pod loss, swathing is generally done when the plants are slightly damp. Wind is also a factor as it can damage swaths.
Since green, immature seeds can result in chickpeas being downgraded and their value impacted, producers prefer to harvest when the majority of the crop is mature. This can require the field to be harvested in stages, leaving immature areas to a later date.
Producers normally harvest when the seeds are at approximately 18 percent moisture. Care must be taken not to damage the seed, especially the large Kabuli types. Due to their different seed coats, Kabuli and Desi chickpeas are handled in a slightly different way.
The recommended crop rotation for chickpeas is once every four years, mostly because of the aggressive nature of ascochyta blight, one of the major diseases for the chickpea. A once-in-four-year rotation will allow for the breakdown of chickpea residue on which the disease thrives.
World chickpea production is roughly three times that of lentils. Among pulse crops marketed as human food, world chickpea consumption is second only to dry beans. The major chickpea exporters include Turkey, Australia, Syria, Mexico, Argentina and Canada. About 90 percent of the crop, mostly of the Desi type, is consumed in India.
North American chickpea production was once concentrated in California and the Pacific Northwest. Today, U.S. chickpea production is located in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, and California. Production has also expanded to over 1 million acres in the Canadian Prairies (primarily Saskatchewan).
In the U.S., Kabuli chickpeas are most commonly sold as canned garbanzo beans for use in salads. They are also marketed in a dry form and used in ground flour for baking. If used as human food, Desi chickpeas are decorticated, which involves adjusting the moisture level of the seeds so the thick seed coats can be removed. Decorticated Desi chickpeas are used in East Asian processed products as well as South Asian cuisines.