Potential for Chickpea Production in the Northeast

Published: 31 January 2024

In a new article for The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Javed Sidiqi, Eric Bishop Von Wettberg and McGill Plant Science Assistant Professor Valerio Hoyos Villegas dive into the potential of the humble chickpea, an increasingly popular legume known for high nutritional value and nitrogen-fixing properties. 

While chickpea demand is increasing in the global market, currently there is almost no chickpea production in eastern North America. Chickpeas are well adapted to semi-arid climates, with much of their production occurring in drier parts of South Asia, in Mediterranean climates, and in seasonally dry regions in North America, like the Northern Great Plains and the Palouse of the Pacific Northwest. In more humid climates chickpeas tend to suffer from a range of diseases and have lower yields compared to other crops, but efforts are underway at McGill's Pulse Breeding and Genetics Laboratory to develop cultivars adapted to humid conditions. 

In North America, chickpeas have traditionally been available to consumers as a dry pea that requires soaking and cooking, as a canned whole bean, and in processed forms (primarily prepared hummus, but also as flour). 

More recently, new uses have been found: a source of plant-based protein, chickpeas can replace meat in pasta sauces, stews, tacos, meatloaf and burgers. Roasted chickpeas can be enjoyed as a crunchy snack. Chickpea flour is gluten-free and can be used as a low-glycemic and high-protein alternative to wheat flour in baked goods.

Some of the goals of the McGill chickpea breeding program involve yield and agronomic adaptation, plant architecture, flowering time and determinancy, and processing qualities. 

Although the chickpea market is growing at the global level, smaller growers can benefit from chickpea production to generate income and improve soil fertility and soil health in crop rotation with low input costs. As a fresh bean, or as a value-added product like chickpea flour and roasted chickpeas, chickpeas can be sold at farmers’ markets, in addition to direct sales to local restaurants and grocery stores in an unprocessed form.

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