John Hanna is an agricultural risk taker.
He’s also a bit of an Ontario pioneer.
Hanna, whose Candy Mountain Road farm is a source of innovation, is believed to be the first farmer in Ontario to attempt to grow a commercial crop of chick peas, a protein-filled legume he says has a rapidly growing interest from consumers looking for healthier diets.
Popular around the world and used as the main ingredient in hummus, chick peas are the way of the future, Hanna said.
“I think there is a big market for chick peas, especially as the food trend turns toward the vegetarian side. These are a vegetarian food,” Hanna said.
“This farm has been innovative in exploring new crops in its history really, so it fits into my style here.”
The experiment has had mixed results.
Most of the 12 acres he’s planted are hale and hearty, due for harvesting within the next three or four months. Heavy rains battered a portion of one field, and the bald spot shows farmers who try the crop won’t be without challenges.
It’s worth the effort, said Hanna, who nonetheless had issues finding seed stock to plant the chick peas once the ground thawed for good.
He’s not sure why no farmer in Ontario has really tried to grow the crop.
“I think farmers have been pre-occupied in Ontario. This is traditionally a dry-land crop and they’ve been grown in Saskatchewan and Alberta,” he said.
“But we tried them out at the Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Station and had good success with them there. So why wouldn’t they grow on our farm? And as you can see in the background, these chick peas look to be lush and growing well.
“They’ve got 40 days until harvest to firm up in the pods, but I think they’re really going to make a really good crop,” said Hanna, who has already sought out local buyers and thinks they’ll be a big hit on Thunder Bay store shelves and restaurant kitchens.
Hanna said the actual cultivation of chick peas is not much different than for soy beans, a crop he’s planted several times in the past.
“Sourcing the seed was a big problem. There’s just no seed this side of the prairies, so to find it and to transport it over was an endeavor,” said Hanna, who plans to market his own chick pea seeds in coming years.
“Weed control was a bit of an issue to, but other than that we had existing equipment that put the crop in.”
Tarlok Singh Sehota, who heads up the Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Station, said it’s this type of innovation that makes his work worthwhile.
Chick peas, he added, are the perfect crop. They take little maintenance, they’re generally high-yield and they require less fertilizer, able to pull nitrates out of the air, making them less expensive to grow.
“When we grow new crops here, they have to be economically more important that what we already grow here. They have to be more environmentally friendly because we don’t only look for yield. We want crops which are least threatening to the soil because soil is our production base and we don’t want to spoil our production base.”
The chick peas should be on local store shelves this fall.
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