Chickpea

24.05.17

The chickpea is one of the earliest cultivated legumes and has been growing in the Middle East for many thousands of years. They are mostly eaten in developing countries, but their popularity is increasing in the western world as diets become more diverse and people learn of the nutritional value. Chickpeas are a major source of protein in vegetarian diets: the protein content is twice that of wheat and three times that of rice. This high protein content also makes chickpeas suitable as an animal feed.

Overview

The chickpea plant, Cicer arietinum, grows to between 40-60cm high, with small feathery leaves on either side of the stem. Depending on the type of chickpea, flowers are either white (Kabuli) or purple (Desi). Seedpods can contain one, two or three peas.

Chickpeas have been grown in Australia as a commercial winter crop since the 1980s and production is mostly exported. Prices vary, reaching AU$1,108 per tonne in 2016 (which is high) while AU$350 to AU$500 per tonne delivered to port is cited as a more realistic price (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences). Queensland and New South Wales are the major regions for chickpea production, dominated by the desi chickpea type. However chickpeas are also grown in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

As a legume, chickpeas are good at fixing nitrogen in the soil making them an excellent alternate crop in a cereal-based farming system. They also provide a useful break crop for control of diseases, pests and weeds. The combination of higher soil nitrogen and reduced root diseases can provide a significant boost to subsequent cereal yields.

Chickpea production in Australia is an established industry, with a grower Research & Development (R&D) levy and strategic R&D priorities. Chickpea growers are represented by Pulse Australia.

Facts and figures

  • India is the largest producer, accounting for 66% of global production
  • Australia, India and Mexico account for 65% of world exports
  • Australian production of chickpeas in 2016 was over 2,000,000 tonnes – the vast majority of this being the Desi variety
  • Most Australian chickpeas are exported. Nearly 80% of all exported Australian chickpeas went to Pakistan, Bangladesh and India

Production status

In 2016, Australia produced over 2,000,000 tonnes of chickpeas (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences). Approximately 90% of this was the Desi type.

Most Australian chickpeas are exported to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Chickpeas are a major source of protein in vegetarian diets: the protein content is twice that of wheat and three times that of rice. Chickpeas are also an excellent source of essential nutrients, iron, folate, phosphorus and dietary fibre. They are low in fat and most of this is polyunsaturated. There is a variety of ways to prepare and eat chickpeas. One of the most popular uses of the Desi chickpea is to make dahl. The Kabuli chickpea is mainly consumed whole.

The high protein content of chickpeas also makes them popular as an animal feed, however, the market price achieved for chickpeas for human consumption usually means only weather damaged crop is sold to the feed industry.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Queensland and New South Wales were the major regions for chickpea production, however chickpeas are also grown in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

Soil type

Chickpeas prefer soil with a loamy sand texture to self-mulching clays. The soil should be free draining, with a pH(CaCl2) of at least 5.5. Chickpeas have been grown on soils with a surface pH of 5.0 provided that the sub-soil pH rises to above 5.5 within 10-15cm of the surface. As with most crops, it is best to grow chickpeas in a paddock that is relatively free of large stones and other debris.

Climate

Chickpeas are best suited to areas with reliable seasonal rainfall and mild spring conditions. They are not well suited to low rainfall areas (less than 350mm).

Kabuli chickpeas have a longer growing season and are less tolerant of dry conditions than Desi chickpeas and generally require rainfall of more than 450mm.

Varieties

There are two main types of chickpea: Desi and Kabuli.

Desi chickpeas have small seeds, light to dark brown in colour, with a thick seed coat. They are often dehulled and split to make dahl and are preferred in south Asia (i.e. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). The Desi chickpea is more adaptable to lower rainfall areas (less than 450mm) and the northern regions of Australia including northern New South Wales and Queensland.

Kabuli chickpeas have large, rounder seeds, white to cream coloured and a thin seed coat. They are almost always used whole and are preferred in the Mediterranean. The Kabuli chickpea is best grown where the annual rainfall is greater than 450mm combined with a longer growing season.

Planting and crop management

Chickpeas are grown in rotation with cereal crops and canola. To help minimise the risk of disease, they should not be grown on the same paddock more than once in four years, and should be grown away from the stubble of the previous year’s chickpea or other pulse crop. Chickpea is sensitive to sulphonylurea herbicides so there should be a two year gap from when those herbicides were last used in the paddock. You should also choose a paddock with low numbers of broad-leaf weeds.

The best time for sowing chickpeas is from early May to mid-June, depending on your location, the variety and growing conditions. Chickpeas do not perform well when sown too early or too late. Daily average temperatures at flowering must be above 15°C to ensure effective pollination and the crops are susceptible to frost damage during flowering and pod set. Early sowing also brings greater risk of exposure to ascochyta blight.

Chickpea seed should always be inoculated with the specific chickpea rhizobium inoculum (Group N), regardless of the cropping history of the paddock. The seed should also receive a fungicide dressing to reduce the risk of seed born ascochyta blight and botrytis grey mould. The seed dressings are toxic to rhizobia so there is a specific process to follow for applying the fungicide dressing first followed by the inoculum. See the links below for more information.

A sowing depth of  5-7cm is preferred, although if conditions are good, chickpeas will emerge from a planting depth of up to 10cm without a reduction in establishment rates. Chickpeas can be deep sown to a depth of up to 15cm, emergence is delayed by approximately one day for every centimetre below 7cm and emergence percentages can be significantly reduced depending upon the seed vigour. Both of these must be accounted for when planning to deep sow chickpea. Row spacing can range from 18-100cm depending on location, environment and seeding equipment used. In the northern region chickpea is typically grown on wider row spacing’s of 40-100cm while in the southern and western regions 25cm is more common.

The plant density that gives the highest yield will vary according to the region and the season. In the northern region targeted populations of 25 plants per square metre is common, while in the southern and western regions, plant populations of 40-50 plants per square meter are targeted. More information on sowing rates is available through the links below.

Chickpeas do not require nitrogen fertiliser if the roots are well nodulated, however, phosphorous and other nutrients may be needed. The decision and benefit of applying phosphorous fertiliser depends on the level of available soil phosphorous. Research shows that chickpeas respond well to added phosphorous where available soil phosphorous is at very low levels (below 10mg/kg Colwell test). Most fertiliser suppliers should have options available which include phosphorous and other elements without any nitrogen. More information on nutrient needs of chickpeas is available through the links below.

More detailed information on inoculation, seed dressings, sowing chickpeas and crop nutrition is available at:

Weeds, pests, and diseases

The first step in weed management for chickpeas is to choose a paddock with a low broad-leaf weed burden and to not sow chickpeas into a pasture paddock. It can be difficult to control post-emergent grass weeds, depending upon their resistance status to Group A herbicides, and there is only one registered herbicide for controlling broad-leaf weeds post emergent in chickpeas.

Weed control programs rely heavily upon the use of pre-emergent herbicides, the effectiveness of which can be heavily influenced by seasonal conditions.

Chickpea exude malic acid from their leaves and stems making them taste quite bitter and unpalatable to most seedling pests. Therefore, they are quite tolerant to attack from some pests such as redlegged earth mite, lucerne flea, cutworm and pasture looper. Damage may still occur due to the lack of more palatable alternatives and crops should be checked during and after emergence so that early action can be taken if plants are being chewed and crop density is being reduced.

The main insect pest of chickpea in Australia is the larvae of Helicoverpa (native budworm), a spring pest which feeds primarily on foliage and pods. It is important to understand which species you are facing – H. punctigera is common in southern and western Australia while H. armigera is common in northern Australia and is resistant to many chemical insecticide options. This knowledge will influence the selection of chemicals for control.

Ascochyta blight is a serious disease of chickpeas. Growers need to regularly inspect their crops, particularly 10-14 days after rain events when new infections will become clearly evident. Ascochyta blight is caused by the fungus Phoma rabiei, and is managed through crop rotation, use of varieties with improved resistance, hygiene, seed treatment and fungicide application.

The main viral diseases for chickpeas are cucumber mosaic virus, alfalfa mosaic virus and best western yellow virus.

Further information on identifying and managing ascochyta blight, as well as other pests and diseases, can be found at Pulse Australia and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s pages on chickpea disease managementchickpea weed management and Helicoverpa management in chickpea.

Information on insect control in field crops is also available from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industry’s page on Insect and mite control in field crops.

Infrastructure

A successful chickpea enterprise requires the same large-scale machinery as cereal production. For example, tractors, cultivation equipment, seeder/disc drills, boom sprayers, combine harvesters (headers), chaser bins and grain trucks.

Specialised header attachments such as extension fingers or the use of draper fronts may be an advantage and separate storage facilities are required. For more information, see the Desiccation, harvest ad storage section of Pulse Australia’s page on Chickpea Production: Northern region.

Harvesting & Processing

The timing for chickpea harvest depends on the moisture content that is required for delivery and storage. These factors depend on the buyer and whether aeration is available in the storage. Advice from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is that in general, harvest should be under way when upper pods are at 15% moisture if aiming to deliver at 13-14% moisture.

Handling of chickpeas should be minimised to avoid damaging the seeds. To facilitate this, belt conveyors are generally better than augers. If an auger is used, it should be run full and at a slower speed than for cereals.

Current standards for chickpea receival and trading are available from Pulse Australia.

Markets & Marketing

Chickpeas have been grown as a commercial crop in Australia since the 1980s, mostly for export for human consumption. There are a range of buyers supplying the different market needs and various contracting options are available. Growers should begin their market research well before harvest and preferably before planting. Information on individual traders and handlers is available from Pulse Australia.

The specifications for Kabuli chickpeas are very strict, with large unblemished grain bringing premium prices. Kabuli chickpea needs to be graded, sized and bagged at the growers’ expense prior to marketing. Current standards for chickpea receival and trading are available from Pulse Australia.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

As with all agricultural pursuits, risk is inherent in growing chickpeas and can include:

  • the crop failing to establish or mature properly due to adverse weather events, thus resulting in reduced yield and/or poor quality
  • commodity prices falling during the growth period impacting on the returns projected at planting
  • chickpeas not reaching the quality standards required and therefore attracting lower prices
  • not recouping the costs of inputs and capital invested in the crop, like fertiliser or the costs of running large equipment, if the crop fails.

Regulatory considerations

Apart from the regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading / unloading of harvested grain), there are no regulations specific to chickpea operations. More information about laws and regulations affecting chickpea growers can be obtained from the relevant government authority. Information and advice can also be sought from the relevant state farming organisation, some of which are listed on the National Farmers’ Federation website; or from Pulse Australia.

Publications

Publications/information

Chickpeas – Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food

Chickpea production in Queensland – Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Planting chickpeas – Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Nutrition – Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Chickpea – weed management – Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Helicoverpa management in chickpea – Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Insect and mite control in field crops – NSW Department of Primary Industries

Chickpea Production: Northern region – Pulse Australia

Industry Bodies

Pulse Australia – peak body for the pulse industry, including chickpeas, in Australia.

Image Gallery

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Chickpea crop with pods (source Pulse Australia)

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Dried Chickpeas Desi variety - split (source Pulse Australia)

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Chickpea crop in flower (source Pulse Australia)

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Chickpea Desi Variety (source Pulse Australia)

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Dried Chickpeas Kabuli Variety (source Pulse Australia)