Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, can be a rewarding crop to raise. They are commonly used for human consumption, and product quality after harvest is key to maximizing your return. Chickpeas also can be risky to plant, so consider how much risk your operation is willing to assume before you jump in with planting a 1,000-acre trial.
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Before any farm decides to grow chickpeas, there are some basic principles that should be considered before planting, while planting, during the season and especially at harvest:
Starting with seed that has been quality tested for germination, total live seeds per pound, and presence of ascochyta blight is an absolute must. The germination of a chickpea is affected greatly by the handling of the product. Before it is planted, it needs to have a proven germ that will leave you with an accurate live seed per pound number to determine how many pounds need to be planted for a successful population. Please keep in mind when the germination sample was taken. The number of times the product is handled after this sample was taken can greatly affect the future germination.
Using belt conveyors after conditioning is equally important. Harsh handling of clean seed can be disastrous. Remember that the presence of ascochyta on the seed must not exceed 0.3 percent. Even if the ascochyta level is zero, the seed needs to be treated with an appropriate seed treatment to keep this fungus issue at a minimum.
Make sure you are growing varieties that are sought after by processors. Find a reputable buyer, find out what they want, research the variety and make your decision. There is nothing worse than growing a high-risk crop that is difficult to market. But, there is nothing better than watching your investment turn into a high-quality, profitable crop.
There are a few things to consider when deciding which fields to plant chickpeas. Former crops planted as well as prior herbicide use is extremely important. Some small grain or other crop herbicides used in previous years may have serious carryover consequences for chickpeas. Also, certain preplant weed control products for chickpeas will have consequences for crops to be planted following chickpeas. If you are unsure about rotation restrictions of specific herbicides, consult your local agronomist.
Fields with heavy weed pressure may not be a good choice for chickpeas as there are few pre-plant products that are a cure-all for weeds. Timing of application, lack of moisture (or a huge rainfall event), or second flushes can cause tremendous harvest issues. Keep in mind that just because your beans might have a weed issue, all is not lost. I once had two quarters of chickpeas that were consumed with Russian thistle. From the highway, it appeared to be an absolute crop loss. With a properly timed pre-harvest desiccant, and an abundance of patience, we harvested a surprisingly good crop of high-quality beans. It was not the most fun harvest, but creating a profitable crop season is not always an easy task!
Another thing to consider is to plant in fields that are not high in residual nitrogen. Chickpeas are an indeterminate crop and will continue to grow until they receive environmental stress. Pulses will consume available nitrogen before making their own, so a properly inoculated chickpea crop grown on land with a lot of residual nitrogen will lengthen the growing season. The crop needs to be drying down and close to harvest before the first killing frost to prevent the seed color from staying green.
Fields with large amounts of rocks are not desirable, but also not impossible for chickpeas. Rolling with a land roller is important to smooth the field for harvest with a flex head, as well as pushing stones flush with the ground to prevent them from entering the combine. Rolling should be completed before emergence to guarantee there is no damage to the plants, which could cause the onset of ascochyta.
Scouting the crop for insect damage and disease is crucial after the crop has completely emerged. Depending on the planting depth, which should be up to 3 inches deep to get to moisture, they will not always emerge evenly. We have seen emergence as early as six days, but as many as 14, depending on the soil temperatures, moisture available and other growing conditions. Anytime it is taking more than seven days to see plants, you should consider scouting for possible issues. Cutworms in our area can be disastrous to a crop if not scouted early enough. Poor emergence in large areas may be a cause for concern, and when in doubt, get on your knees and start looking!
Once the crop is emerged, you are looking for possible ascochyta infections. If you don’t know what ascochyta looks like in chickpeas, take samples, pictures, etc. and forward to an experienced agronomist. If disease is present, approved fungicides are available that are quite effective for treatments. Be prepared – if conditions are favorable, additional passes of fungicide may be necessary to keep the crop healthy throughout the growing season.
Desiccation should be used as a tool for quality. It is sometimes hard to know exactly when to desiccate, but scouting the fields regularly will give you a good idea. Most of the pods will be turning a light brown color, but it is important to note the color of the seeds also. Desiccating plants too early may set the dark green color, which is a big factor in deciding the quality of the beans. Rains in the forecast can also present problems around desiccation time. If the plants are drying down and close to harvest, a significant rain event and continuing warm weather can cause the plant to flower and set more seeds. These seeds will rarely have time to mature into quality seeds at harvest time. It is crucial to manage for quality, instead of simply hoping for more quantity - a total of 5 percent defects is all it takes to classify your beans as sample grade, so be sure to manage accordingly.
If you get to see your beans from the combine all the way to the bin, you know exactly what needs to be done to maintain quality. There is always concern for low spots in the field that may still have green seeds in the pods. Be prepared to harvest around these areas to maintain good appearance of the crop. The beans should be loaded at the very center of the hoppers, and slowly at first, to make sure seed cracking will be minimized. The combines should be set with wide concave clearance, slow rotor speeds, and the moisture of the beans should be above 15 percent. Lower moisture content creates trouble. If your storage facility has aeration systems, the beans can be harvested while moist and dried down to a level that is acceptable for your processor.
Maintaining the quality of the seed from the combine into the bin is critical. Using an unloading conveyor into the bin is the best, but if an auger must be used, keep the auger full and run it slowly. Special consideration should be taken for storage in a large flat-bottom bin. Conveying 50 bushels into a new bin, then sweeping or shoveling the chickpeas into the center of the bin in a pile is necessary to make sure the rest of the load lands on the pile (instead of concrete) to minimize the damage. Making sure everyone on the harvest team knows these tricks will help minimize the risk of damage and ensure a high-quality, food-grade seed.
Raising chickpeas has not been easy, and it is not always a home run. But, with a little trial and error, and the help of your agronomist, I think you will find that adding chickpeas in your farm rotation can be very rewarding. During the past 10 years of growing chickpeas on our farm, there hasn’t been a year go by that doesn’t teach us something. Learning from our mistakes and asking the right questions at the right time helps to make the growing season less stressful.
Keep in mind, I don’t consider myself a perfect chickpea grower! If you know someone that has experience, asking for advice will help your crop to be a success. I truly believe that you will enjoy raising chickpeas and providing your neighbors with the best quality hummus money can buy.
Have a great growing season!
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