A dry winter and a dip in the worldwide prices of chickpeas are cutting into Washington state's production this year.
Walla Walla Valley farmers are starting to harvest chickpeas, also called garbanzos, as they finish up wheat harvest this week.
The first field of chickpeas delivered to Blue Mountain Seed in Walla Walla last week was good, delivering more than 1,700 pounds of chickpeas per acre with more than 70 percent of them the larger, higher-valued beans, said Gary Ferrel, the company's president.
Ferrel said he's been constantly amazed at how resilient garbanzos are. But he is expecting to see declining yields and garbanzo size as harvest continues.
Statewide, farmers are expected to harvest about 88,000 acres of "garbs," this year, down by 4,000 acres from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It's a slight decline for a crop that has been growing by leaps and bounds since 2000, when Washington farmers grew only 10,000 acres. Washington grows the most chickpeas in the nation.
Chickpeas have been a success story for farmers in Walla Walla and other areas of the state with demand increasing because of America's growing appetite for hummus.
Ferrel expects the popularity drop in chickpeas is only temporary.
This year, some Walla Walla farmers decided to switch from chickpeas to dried peas as a rotation crop with wheat. Walla Walla had a dry winter, and garbanzos need more water than dried peas.
The heat the area has received this summer makes it likely that farmers will see more dry, shriveled beans, Ferrel said. Those beans will be culled out during the cleaning process and won't be sold.
Plantings have decreased worldwide. The Middle East had a large winter crop of chickpeas in January, driving the price down. But the Middle East also has suffered a drought, so Ferrel is expecting prices to rebound in the next several months.
Last week, large chickpeas were selling for 32 cents per pound, compared to 30 cents this spring, he said. Most of the chickpeas from Blue Mountain Seed's farmers are exported.
Chickpea harvest likely will finish early this year, sometime around Sept. 10, Ferrel said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com