New York Chickpeas to Benefit Farm Diversity and Local Markets
Evidence suggests that certain varieties of chickpeas could grow successfully on the East Coast. Chickpeas are susceptible to blight, so traditionally they are grown in the drier climates of Africa, India, and the Middle East. Most chickpeas in the United States are grown in California and the Pacific Northeast, then dehydrated and shipped elsewhere.
A new pilot project involving Schuyler County and Cornell University is working to learn whether or not chickpeas can be grown in New York State. If successful, the project could offer New York farmers a way to diversify crops and offer food manufacturers a more cost-effective and sustainable source of chickpeas, according to the Cornell Chronicle. The project was inspired by Antithesis Foods, a Cornell student company known for their crunchy chocolate-covered chickpea snacks, Grabanzos.
The project emerged after Antithesis met with Judy McKinney-Cherry, executive director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) where they presented a map of their supply chain. McKinney-Cherry was shocked that the chickpeas used in their product were from Arizona and not grown regionally.
McKinney-Cherry connected with the region’s agricultural community and found no one growing chickpeas in New York.
“New York state was founded on innovation — that’s what put us on the map, so what better way to go back to our roots than attempting to diversify our state’s agriculture?” she told the Cornell Chronicle. She quickly established a team of regional investors, businesses, researchers, and farmers to explore the potential of growing chickpeas locally.
In fact, consumer demand for chickpeas is growing. Retail sales of foods based on legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans have increased over $700 million in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Carl Taber, chair of the Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency, was enlisted in the pilot project to establish a 3-acre test plot on his farm in Mecklenburg, NY, where three varieties of Kabuli chickpeas would be grown.
“I’m pretty excited about the potential for a new crop,” Taber told the Cornell Chronicle, “Just because it hasn’t been tried here doesn’t mean it won’t work here.”
Taber also noted that chickpeas have other benefits to farmers’ operations. “I also think there is potential for this to be another crop to diversify rotations that might currently rely on spring cereals, and with the soil health and fertility benefit of a legume,” he said.
McKinney-Cherry was connected with Alan Taylor, professor of seed science and technology in the School of Integrative Plant Science, Horticulture Section at Cornell AgriTech. In his lab, Taylor has led research on seed treatments with both chemical and biological methods of protecting seedlings from pests.
With Taylor’s help, the project was able to acquire a fungicide seed treatment from a commercial supplier and have it applied to the seeds on campus, thanks to Phil Atkins, director of the New York Seed Improvement Project in the School of Integrative Plant Science.
Taber’s test plot provided encouraging results, despite a late planting. One variety was even growing strongly into late fall despite snow.
“We learned the crop can be grown in our climate,” Taber told the Cornell Chronicle. “We learned that there is demand and a potential market in our region. We identified a source for seed – an accomplishment in itself. To demonstrate commercial viability of the crop, there will need to be an investment in processing in this region.”