Our Varietal Solutions team leads cultivar innovation and the continuous improvement of our products. Dr. Sean Finnie — our Senior Manager of R&D — is part of this team, and we sat down with him to learn about his collaborative work to breed the next generation of chickpea cultivars.
I joined Bay State Milling in 2015 and the Varietal Solutions team in 2019. What excites me most about my work is seeing new varieties planted, knowing they will grow to become products with real benefits, and seeing the variety move from supply chains to the kitchen table. We use conventional breeding to achieve desired characteristics, so consumers can rest assured that our products are natural, not genetically modified. Growers also benefit; I grew up in a farming community and saw the challenges they face and believe that breeding can significantly improve yield and reduce disease. It can shift us from growing commodities to growing ingredients.
Our Chickpea Cultivar Program
We originally started breeding chickpeas to support our SowNaked™ Oats program. Growers rotate oats with pulses like chickpeas. We wanted to develop protein-rich chickpeas that could fix more nitrogen into the soil, which yields more consistent, high-protein oats. This year, we formed the Chickpea Cultivar Steering Committee that unites colleagues from R&D, Supply Chain, Sales and Quality Assurance to develop superior varieties that our customers desire. We consider many chickpea attributes across sensory perception, flavor profile, functionality and nutrition. Agronomic attributes are also important, such as shorter growing season and plant height. A notable milestone is our partnership with Montana State University; to date, we have funded a professor and his student to research new chickpea cultivars.
My vision for the future is that we have proprietary cultivars that support our customers’ product innovation and provide healthful, affordable choices to consumers, while strengthening our domestic chickpea supply. Within the next year, we will identify commercially available cultivars in nursery trials; after that, we will evaluate emergent cultivars for commercial potential and support breeding initiatives with partners like Montana State. All of this will be informed by our customers to ensure that we are articulating the traits that matter to them.