New feasibility study on domestic chickpea production

LinkedIn +

A new research project aims to explore the potential for domestic production and pump-prime the UK’s first chickpea breeding programme.

‘Cicero – developing chickpea as a novel source of domestic UK protein’ is a two-year, £500,000 feasibility study led by the crop science organisation NIAB, with collaborators from across the agri-food supply chain. Cicero has been awarded funding by Defra under the ‘Farming Futures R&D Fund: Sustainable farm-based protein’ competition, part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme managed by Innovate UK, and starts with immediate effect.

Research will focus on the cool-season legume, chickpea (Cicer arietinum). In common with other nitrogen-fixing legumes, the crop has the potential to reduce on-farm fertiliser requirements and the high greenhouse gas emissions associated with fertiliser production and application. Current domestic legume production is mainly restricted to field beans and combinable peas, which are not necessarily optimised for human consumption, with a large proportion destined for animal feed. In contrast, chickpea is familiar to our food industry but is rarely grown in the UK, largely due to the scarcity of adapted varieties and the lack of knowledge both growers and advisors have of the crop. UK food companies annually import 60,000 tonnes for products including stand-alone tins, pouches of cooked chickpeas and packets of dried pulses,  alongside use as ingredient in ready meals and bakery products.Cicero will explore the possibility of displacing imported chickpeas through domestic production.

Multi-faceted approach

Project lead and NIAB’s Head of Breeding Dr Phil Howell explains that Cicero will take a muti-faceted approach. Variety trials and agronomy testing will be carried out by NIAB and specialist seed company Premium Crops, ranging from small plots up to field-scale evaluation. End-use quality assessments will be undertaken by Norfolk-based grower Place UK, who has successfully grown chickpea crops to sell through its vertically-integrated food ingredients business.

“Whilst the two-year project timescale prohibits a full breeding cycle, new populations will be advanced rapidly through the glasshouse, with selections ready for their first field evaluation by spring 2025. NIAB has already assembled a diverse collection of chickpea material, which will be evaluated in field nurseries over the project duration. These will be complemented by a unique population of novel induced variants developed together with biotechnology start-up Viridian Seeds. These new sources of diversity will all feed into a second cycle of new crosses to kickstart the development of UK-adapted material,” says Dr Howell.

“Chickpeas are a classic example of the challenges the legume sector is facing. Manufacturers must often rely on imports to service the increasing demand for healthy plant-based foods. While this crop can be grown in the UK, its yields and quality are unreliable because current varieties are not well-adapted. Ultimately, we need better varieties bred specifically for UK conditions, but we also need to improve our agronomy know-how to get the most out of varieties – now and in the future,” finishes Dr Howell.


Share this story:

About Author