Garbanzo beans

A field of garbanzo dry beans in Yolo County, Calif.

It is a relatively small volume crop, grown on about 10,000 acres in California, but garbanzo beans are still significant because the variety grown is the large, cream colored bean used by the canning industry.

Dry bean researchers with the University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources released two new studies last year on the cost of growing garbanzo and the returns it yields. Rachael Freeman Long is an agronomy adviser with UCANR who has been working with beans for 30 years.

The production manual she worked on for two years was published recently, and will benefit both new and existing growers by showing them how to better manage production, she said. The report has tables on nutrient management, and shows how much phosphorous and nitrogen to apply, among other guidelines.

“We grow the really large ones for canning,” Long said. “Most of the beans grown elsewhere are used for flour, but we can’t do it because water is really expensive to irrigate garbanzos. Places like Washington state grow 100,000 acres of garbanzos but they get free rainfall so they don’t have to irrigate. We have to, so found a niche market that makes a little bit more money.”

Garbanzo is a winter crop for California, which gets enough rainfall to germinate the crop so there is less need for irrigation. Nitrogen is added to the soil so growers don’t have to fertilize as much. She explained that garbanzo is not as strong as soybeans as a nitrogen fixer, so growers do need to add some nitrogen to get a good yield.

“We are doing trials on how to manage weeds in garbanzo. You plant in winter, and harvest in the summer and it’s difficult since you have to control both winter and summer weeds,” Long said.

“There are no herbicides registered for garbanzo, so once the crop emerges from the soil you can’t spray. Herbicides can be used soon after planting, and that’s what growers do, but they don’t hold real well all the way to summer, so we have a couple trials going on now.”

The typical growing season is from December to May. It’s not a crop that can be planted back to back, so farmers have to rotate crops once they harvest to control pests and diseases.

Wheat is the usual rotation crop for the fall, or some growers opt to wait a year and switch to tomatoes in the following spring.

“It’s one crop per year, you can’t double crop garbanzo,” Long said. “In the meantime, you work out the soil compaction, because equipment going over it can make soil hard and compacted, making it hard for roots to grow. So tillage will break it up.”

After harvesting with a combine, discing and tilling follows to prepare the soil for the next year. Garbanzo is not as huge a crop as almonds in the state, but it fetches a better price than wheat and requires fewer inputs than other crops.

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