PULLMAN, Wash. – Fewer chickpea acres will be planted in Montana this year in response to a market dulled by recent trade disruptions from tariffs and government policies, according to Phil Hinrichs, CEO and president of Hinrichs Trading Company, a chickpea-processing company with two Montana locations.
“We’re anticipating acres to be cut in half,” Hinrichs said. “If growers are doing the math to create cashflow and to keep afloat, the numbers are too risky. The back off in acres will be proactive.”
Although 2019 chickpea contracts may be at their all-time low, the future of the commodity is bright, Hinrichs said. It’s about global and domestic demand for the high-protein bean, as well as the Goldilocks agronomic conditions in the Northern Plains.
“We know that our Montana growers can officially grow chickpeas, it’s not a guess,” he said. “Montana is here to stay in the pulse business. Companies like ours will rebound; part of our business is to keep the market growing.”
The family-owned company operates in six states, including Montana, where it has a receiving station and seed distribution outlet in Fort Benton and a bulk terminal facility in Shelby. The company employs 17 people in Montana, some of them seasonally.
For more than a decade, Montana’s production of pulse crops has been growing substantially. Montana is the number one producer of peas and lentils in the U.S. and the number three producer of chickpeas.
Population growth and rising economic conditions, particularly in India, are driving global demand for pulses. At home, research into technologies like fractionalization, a process that separates proteins and starches, and product development are powering the demand.
It may take until 2020 to “clean up” the chickpea market, Hinrichs said. One reason is the carry-over: U.S. processors are still holding 70 percent of the 2018 crop. Some of that crop is sold, but it’s not shipping, in part because of the sizeable tariffs introduced by India last year.
“We came into 2018 with a large harvest and increased acres, then the tariffs hit,” he said. “It was a recipe for carry-over.”
Montana growers are backing off chickpea acres, but not forgoing them altogether, which is good news, Hinrichs said.
“Montana is a very important place for us,” he said. “We love stretching out our acres, staying away from diseases, keeping the commodity close to the West Coast and Montana is a unique state with high respect for its agricultural producers and a state government that promotes outside investment.”
Hinrichs estimates 250,000 chickpea acres will be planted in Montana this year, compared with 500,000 last year.
“In 2018 everybody wanted to get on board, and we had an all-time high of planted acres,” Hinrichs said. “Then right after planting, the tariffs were put in place that started to affect our cash price. There was no market to India unless you were going to pay the tariff; that really closed the door.”