The summer's hot, dry weather shrank this year's chickpeas, though the volume of Washington's crop grew.
The smaller size of the chickpeas, also called garbanzos, contributed to a decline in price that may lead some farmers next year to plant dried peas instead.
Still, Gary Ferrel, president of Blue Mountain Seed, said chickpeas remain a solid, profitable crop for Walla Walla County farmers.
"I'm still optimistic about chickpeas," Ferrel said. "I think they are a great rotation crop."
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The smaller size harvested in August and September matters because those smaller beans have a harder time competing with the cheap, small beans that other countries offer, he said.
"There is a glut of cheap chickpeas in the world right now," Ferrel said.
Most of that glut is from the Middle East, including India and Turkey.
In the U.S., Washington is the nation's top grower of chickpeas.
While prices were about 40 cents a pound last year, prices were closer to 28 cents last week, Ferrel said.
Ferrel said most of his growers are having him hold onto their chickpeas, hoping the price will get back into the 30-cent range. Chickpeas can be stored for two to three years.
The price drop for chickpeas means that some farmers may shift back to dried peas, which were only about a dime cheaper earlier last week, Ferrel said. Dried peas are less of a risk and less expensive to grow.
He doesn't doubt the prices will bounce back for chickpeas, but the question is when. And that will depend on the world market, he said.
Cathleen Williams of Kennewick, who farms near Waitsburg, said she plans to continue growing chickpeas next year.
She said the price still remains better than dried peas.
Despite lower yields and smaller beans, the volume of the state crop grew because of acres added by farmers.
Growers harvested about 92,000 acres of the small pea this year, up 15 percent from 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 20,000 of those acres were in Walla Walla and Columbia counties.
By weight, Washington farmers harvested about 1.5 million hundredweight of chickpeas this year, according to the USDA. That was up about 12 percent from last year.
The U.S. crop stayed stable at about 3.3 million hundredweight, according to the USDA.
w Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com