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New, Improved Chickpea Now Available

By Jan Suszkiw
April 22, 2003

Legume lovers, rejoice! Agricultural Research Service scientists and their cooperators have released a new chickpea variety called Sierra, whose tasty, cream-colored seed could be coming to salad bars soon.

Sierra's high yield of such seed, combined with disease resistance to Ascochyta blight, patho-types 1 and 2, also should suit the "economic tastes" of commercial chickpea growers.

This spring marks the first commercial plantings of Sierra from 30,000-50,000 pounds of foundation seed, according to geneticist Frederick Muehlbauer, with ARS' Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Pullman, Wash.

Sierra, named after Muehlbauer's two-year-old granddaughter, is derived from crosses he made in 1992 between Dwelley, an earlier release, and chickpea germplasm obtained from Mexico and central Asia via the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, located in Aleppo, Syria.

Walter Kaiser, a retired ARS colleague, conducted plant pathology studies to ensure Sierra's resistance to Ascochyta rabiei, a top fungal foe of chickpeas worldwide. University cooperators in Washington, Idaho, North Dakota and California conducted field trials evaluating Sierra's agronomic characteristics.

Their data indicate that, after planting, Sierra generally blooms in 65 days, grows to 21 inches high, and reaches peak crop maturity in 110 days. Farmers who rotate chickpeas with barley and wheat should find Sierra relatively easy to harvest by combine, since it grows upright and can be cut six inches off the ground.

In eight out of 10 field tests in eastern Washington, northern Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota, Sierra produced higher seed yields than two industry varieties, Dwelley and Sanford. For example, during four years of tests at three Palouse sites, Sierra's average yearly seed yield was 1,348 pounds per acre, versus 1,274 for Dwelley.

Sierra is a kabuli-type chickpea, the kind served at salad bars and used in ethnic dishes. Besides taste, chickpeas offer a low-fat source of fiber, protein, iron, vitamins A and C, and folic acid.

ARS, which has filed for a plant variety protection certificate, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.