Chickpea Growers Back in Business
Jim Evans noticed a yellowing, washtub-size patch in his chickpea crop one
day in 1985. "When I looked closer, I saw chalky lesions on the leaves and
stems," Evans says.
His farm in Genesee, Idaho, was hit with one of the worst chickpea
diseasesAscochyta blightand he was not alone. By 1987,
growers across Washington and Idaho were losing their crops to the fungus.
"Blight infection can kill plants, reduce yield, and affect seed
quality," says Walter J. Kaiser, plant pathologist at the ARS Western
Regional Plant Introduction Station in Pullman, Washington.
Evans' yield dropped from 2,200 pounds of chickpeas per acre to less than
400. Many farmers quit trying to grow them. Acreage dropped from over 11,000 in
1987 to 4,000 in 1994.
Those who kept trying spent up to $60 per acre on fungicidesoften
But this spring, Evans and other growers have a new tactic: three ARS
chickpea varieties that resist the fungus.
Dwelley and Sanford are large-seeded, creamy-white kabuli chickpeas, the
type often seen in salad bars. Myles is a smaller, darker, desi type, used to
make a porridge called dahl and other popular Indian, Pakistani, and Ethiopian
As soon as the disease struck, Kaiser and ARS geneticist Fred J. Muehlbauer
began developing the new chickpeas. All three varieties came through unscathed
in testing and limited production last year. "We didn't see a single
lesion," says Muehlbauer.
This year, there should be enough Dwelley and Sanford seed to meet grower
demand. The first increase was grown last year in Arizona.
Northwest growers tried for a late crop with the seedplanting in June,
instead of March or Aprilbut a season-long drought caused low yields.
Myles, which was just released last July, is still being increased.
Tim McGreevy of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council in Moscow, Idaho, is
excited about the new varieties. "I expect we'll see the acreage come back
up to at least 10,000 acres, just because of the resistance," he says.
Chickpeas are rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber, while being
low in fat and cholesterol. In many parts of the world, chickpeas serve as a
staple, like wheat in America. Most of the U.S. cropworth around $2
million annuallyis grown in the Pacific Northwest and California. -- By
Kathryn Barry Stelljes, ARS.
J. Muehlbauer is in the USDA-ARS
Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit, Johnson Hall, Room 303,
Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6434; phone (509) 335-9521, fax
Walter J. Kaiser is in the USDA-ARS
Germplasm Introduction And Testing Research Station, Johnson Hull, Room 59,
Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6402; phone (509) 335-3683.
" Chickpea Growers Back in Business" was
published in the April
1995 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.