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Myers, R.L. 1993. Interdisciplinary teamwork for new crop development in Missouri. p. 120-121. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

Interdisciplinary Teamwork for New Crop Development in Missouri

Robert L. Myers


The components of the effort with new or alternative crops at the University of Missouri include both research and extension efforts. Field research and informal coordination of new crop research are carried out by the Alternative Crops Project, which is part of the interdisciplinary Foods, Feeds, and Products Cluster. The Cluster is one of several cooperative research groups in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources that receive Food for the 21st Century funding from the Missouri legislature. The extension efforts with new crops are carried out primarily by faculty in agronomy and agricultural economics, and also through the Missouri Alternatives Center.

The Foods, Feeds, and Products Cluster consists of 20 faculty from the Departments of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Engineering, Agronomy, Animal Science, Biological Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Plant Pathology. The general goal of the cluster is to "...increase the profitability, diversity, and sustainability of Missouri's agricultural industry." Cluster members are interested in accelerating the process of converting raw materials from new or traditional crops into new or improved products. Emphasis areas corresponding to different parts of this product development process include "economic evaluation," "agronomic evaluation," "processing," and "utilization."

Economic evaluation includes identifying market needs, marketing of by-products, and assessing profitability of new crop enterprises. Both improved food and feed products and new industrial product opportunities are explored. The possibility of using agricultural resources to replace nonrenewable resources is considered particularly critical by scientists in the cluster. Success in market expansion of food, feed, and industrial products depends not only on fully utilizing farm level resources, but also human and capital resources in small communities.

Agronomic evaluation is a comprehensive effort involving several steps, such as determining plant adaptability, evaluating performance of germplasm, and developing production practices. Among the diverse species of plants with potentially valuable products, relatively few have been utilized. Agronomists and plant scientists are conducting field and laboratory trials with a significant number of these underutilized plants. This research has already shown that canola and industrial rapeseed are excellent options for the region, and thus several investigators are involved in agronomic research with canola/rapeseed. Replicated field studies are underway with several other promising crops, such as sunflower, buckwheat, crambe, amaranth, dry beans, and sesame. In an attempt to identify regions of the state most suited for amaranth and canola/rapeseed production, agroclimatic and economic factors have been incorporated into geographic information system databases, and used to generate maps showing most suitable areas.

Processing efforts are centered around extrusion process to create new or improved food and feed products, and fermentation processing that can be used for conversion of starches or other conversions. Extrusion processing of foods and feeds is a process of exposing raw ingredients to high temperature in combination with mixing, kneading, cooking, shearing, and forming processes to produce cereals, snacks, pet foods, texturized meat substitutes, modified starches, and other products. Fermentation processing involves use of anaerobic and aerobic microorganisms to convert starting materials into intermediate or end-use products.

Utilization research is focused on adding value to by-products and wastes. By-products such as rapeseed meal are evaluated for their nutritional value for livestock, while other products are subjected to fermentation processing. These efforts not only hold the potential for adding value to low value or waste materials, but also keep those materials out of the waste stream, potentially reducing certain environmental problems.

A current focus of the Foods, Feeds, and Products Cluster is to develop the rapeseed and canola industry in the Missouri region. This includes research on production methods and utilization studies, as described above. It also involves investigation into some of the more fundamental questions about the crops and their potential. Perhaps most uniquely, the Cluster includes among its activities efforts to generate markets for the crops and their products, in part by raising consumer awareness, and in part by direct interaction with industry. For example, members of the agricultural economics faculty have met with several different processors and utilization experts in agricultural corporations to pursue market development for canola and rapeseed.

The work the Cluster carries out with rapeseed is part of a multi-state effort called the High Erucic Acid Development Effort (HEADE). This interstate collaboration allows better research support and evaluation within and across disciplines. Missouri's role is a central one due to the involvement of university personnel in the administration and research of the HEADE program.

The alternative crops emphasis within the Cluster was catalyzed with the addition of the Alternative Crops Project in 1989. This project, one of four F21C supported positions/projects in the Cluster, has the responsibility of evaluating diverse crop species for potential in Missouri. The work ranges from established alternatives, such as canola, to less well known grains such as amaranth. Crops grown elsewhere in the world, but not in Missouri, are receiving attention, such as sesame, while certain native, undomesticated, Midwestern species are also being examined, particularly those which were once cultured by indigenous Midwestern groups for their grain production, such as goosefoot, marsh elder, and knotweed. Research with these crops includes agronomic charac-terization, development of production practices and cropping system strategies, and investigation into the physio-logy and ecology of more promising species. The most promising "grains" to date are canola and sunflowers, while other options may be feasible in a few to several years, such as sesame, amaranth, and grain-type pearl millet.

The Alternative Crops Project provides the lead on interdisciplinary research with alternative crops carried out by the F21C Cluster. Cooperators from agricultural economics, agricultural engineering, agronomy, animal science, anthropology, biological sciences, entomology, food science and human nutrition, geography, horticulture, and plant pathology all contribute to the research effort with alternative crops.

Research is not the only action needed to increase the adoption of alternative crops. Efforts in educating both consumers and producers about alternative crops and products are essential to the long term success of these crops. Extension programs are carried out by personnel in both agronomy and agricultural economics. Information is provided not only through traditional media such as grower meetings and extension publications, and interviews with print and broadcast journalists, but also through computer-based multi-media systems. Alternative crops currently covered by extension guides include canola, sunflowers, and buckwheat. Other guides are planned for the future.

Individuals who contact the University of Missouri for information related to crop alternatives are usually directed to either the Alternative Crops Project or to the Missouri Alternatives Center. The Missouri Alternatives Center is an extension effort that handles a large volume of phone and mail requests about unusual or exotic plants and animals. The Center maintains a large collection of reference materials on an assortment of plant and animal species, and sends out photocopies of information relevant to a particular request. Information files at the Center are maintained and supported by Center staff, by an independent consultant, and by campus research projects such as the Alternative Crops Project. The Alternative Crops Project maintains information files on approximately 100 different crops or potential crops, with the focus on plants that would be harvested primarily for their seeds.

Efforts on new or alternative crop research and extension are also being carried on at other Missouri institutions. At Lincoln University, a program in horticulture focused on ethnic food markets has generated much interest (primarily specialty vegetables). Northwest Missouri State University staff have stimulated farmers into growing horticultural and industrial crops as part of cooperative on-farm research and demonstration efforts. The programs at University of Missouri, Lincoln University, and Northwest Missouri State University combine to provide the state's farmers with good technical support for looking at a wide array of alternatives.

In sum, key elements of the new crops programs at University of Missouri include interdisciplinary cooperation, long term commitment from the University administration, and base funding provided by the state. Although various individuals have promoted or researched selected new or alternative crops during the past few decades in Missouri, the current comprehensive initiative was initiated only in 1989. The early focus with canola and rapeseed has and will continue to have immediate impact in the state. Efforts with many other alternative crops will take a number of years to achieve desired goals, but the enthusiasm, support, and participation of many individuals should greatly improve the chance of success.


Last update April 8, 1997 aw