It’s harvest time and good news for Sabra Dipping Co. Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture is about to gather one of Virginia’s first crop of chickpeas.
Sabra has partnered with VSU to research the possibility of sourcing chickpeas, the main ingredient in its top-selling hummus, closer to the company’s 49-acre campus in Chesterfield County. Sabra is the No. 1 brand of hummus in the U.S. and has established both a manufacturing operation and R&D Center of Excellence on its campus at Ruffin Mill Industrial Park in Chesterfield County.
Sabra first announced plans to establish a facility in Virginia in November 2008. Part of the company’s decision to locate in Chesterfield County was the proximity to VSU’s College of Agriculture. “During the company’s decision-making process, we arranged several meetings with the College of Agriculture to explore opportunities to grow chickpeas in Virginia and enhance the profitability of the company,” said Renee Chapline, president and CEO at Virginia Gateway Region.
Over the last two years, Sabra and VSU have implemented Dr. Harbans Bhardwaj’s chickpea research through the university’s Small Farms Outreach Program. Cliff Somerville, a VSU Small Farm Outreach agent, has worked with a number of farms across Virginia to test the growth of different varieties of chickpeas.
According to Somerville, while last year’s crops were largely a washout due to weather conditions (excessive rain) and a problem with worms, VSU and Sabra discovered that one type of chickpea seed worked well in Virginia — the “Billy Bean” variety.
This year, VSU only planted the “Billy Bean” variety and Somerville supervised one of those test sites – three acres on a farm in Halifax County.
“The plants got up to around 30 inches and it’s a good population with about 32-34 pods per stalk,” said Somerville. “It’s a successful crop. We’ve done a test run with the combine to check moisture levels, and we’re getting ready to do a full harvest in the next week or so. This will be one of the first crops of chickpeas grown in Virginia.”
The success of Virginia’s first group of chickpea crops has the potential to be a win-win for both Sabra and Virginia farmers. It would allow Sabra to shorten its supply chain and reduce risk by sourcing one of its main ingredients closer to the company’s manufacturing facility. It also would provide diversification for Virginia farmers, particularly those in the tobacco region.
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VSU Small Farm Outreach agents Cliff Somerville and Derrick Cladd, program director William Crutchfield and cooperating farmer Mr. James Brown (left to right) examine plants in Halifax County, part of Virginia’s first successful group of chickpea crops. Photo courtesy of Virginia State University.