Va. tobacco farmers turn to chickpeas, hummus to restore revenue

James Brown, 72, is a tobacco, soybean and corn farmer in Clover, Va. But this year, he's introducing a new crop: chickpeas. (Courtesy Small Farm Outreach Program)
Field Day Welcome Director of Small Farm Outreach Program William Crutchfield and program agent Cliff Somerville welcome visitors to the Ag Diversification Field Day July 10. The public had the chance to learn more about the current research in chickpea farming and how it could potentially change the agricultural landscape across Virginia. (Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
Chickpea Plant The pods are evident on James Brown's chickpeas in Clover, Va. The 72-year-old tobacco, soybean and corn farmer hopes to have a harvest by October. (Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
Cliff Somerville Small Farm Outreach agent Cliff Somerville explains the chickpea planting process on James Brown's farm on July 10. Brown has five of his 300 acres of land dedicated to chickpea farming. (Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
Farmer James Brown James Brown explains his farming operation to the public at the Small Farm Outreach Program's field day July 10. Brown is one of four farmers who is working with Virginia State University's program to find a chickpea variety that will suit the state's humid climate. "They approached me, and I said, 'Sure, I'll try it,'" he says. (Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
Testing Hummus Farmer Mark Chandler shows visitors his value added processing station, where they can test some of Sabra's hummus dips.(Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
Edamame Soybean Planting Chandler explains his edamame soybean planting to the field day visitors. Director of the Small Farm Outreach Program William Crutchfield says these new opportunities are allowing tobacco, wheat and corn farmers to diversify and potentially make a profit.(Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
Q & A Session Members of the community ask the Small Farm Outreach Program members and farmers questions regarding the new exploration of chickpea farming in Virginia. Sabra Dipping Co., one of the top-selling hummus brands, is partially funding the the outreach program's field tests. (Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
Viewing the edamame Visitors take a look at the edamame during the Ag Diversification Field Day July 10. Chickpeas, in particular, are the crop to look out for. Only some farmers are testing varieties as of now, but Virginia State University agronomist Dr. Harbans Bhardwaj says he is hopeful that within two or three years, farmers will be commercially producing the legume. (Courtesy of Small Farm Outreach Program)
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Natalie Tomlin, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – It’s a healthy problem to have, but one that is financially troubling for Virginia’s oldest crop and those who farm it.

Tobacco was the cash crop of colonial Virginia. According to the National Parks Service, London imported nearly a million and a half pounds of tobacco annually from Virginia by 1640. But that demand is no longer.

From 2000 to 2011, cigarette consumption experienced a 32.8 percent decrease, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and a 2013 study reports that only 18 percent of adults in the U.S. smoke, compared to 33.2 percent of adults in 1980.

“Tobacco farmers always have to look for alternatives and diversify

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