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Bhardwaj, H.L., A. Hankins, T. Mebrahtu, J. Mullins, M. Rangappa, O. Abaye, and G.E. Welbaum. 1996. Alternative Crops Research in Virginia. p. 87-96. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

Alternative Crops Research in Virginia

Harbans L. Bhardwaj, Andy Hankins, Tadesse Mebrahtu, Jimmy Mullins, Muddappa Rangappa, Ozzie Abaye, and Gregory E. Welbaum

    1. Adzuki Bean
    2. Basil
    3. Bitter Melon
    4. Borage
    5. Bottle Gourd
    6. Canola
    7. Castor
    8. Chickpea
    9. Cilantro
    10. Chinese Winter Melon
    11. Cotton
    12. Cut Flowers
    13. Dill
    14. Durum Wheat
    15. Elephant Garlic
    16. Ginseng
    17. Globe Artichoke
    18. Goldenseal
    19. Kenaf
    20. Lesquerella
    21. Meadowfoam
    22. Mungbean
    23. Onion
    24. Pepino
    25. Pigeonpea
    26. Purslane
    27. Quinoa
    28. Sweet Sorghum
    29. Vegetable Soybean
    30. Vernonia
    31. Other Crops
  4. Table 1

Virginia's land grant universities, Virginia State University (VSU), Petersburg, and Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, are both deeply involved in alternative crop research and development (Table 1). VSU conducts new crops research and extension activities to benefit small farmers in the state. Virginia Tech's program is geared toward large scale agriculture and more basic areas of research. In this presentation, we discuss new crops research activities that have occurred since the 1991 New Crop Symposium (Welbaum 1993).


Adzuki Bean

Adzuki bean (Vigna angularis) was grown in Blacksburg in 1992 and 1993. Seeds (Redwood Seed Co., Redwood City, California) were planted on June 20. The plants grew well vegetatively during the summer months but did not flower and set fruit until early Sept. Frost in mid-Oct. killed the plants before most seeds were fully mature. Adzuki is a cool season bean and summer temperatures were excessively high for reproductive growth. Fall production in parts of the southeastern U.S. may be possible.


An experiment with sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) during 1994, indicated that yields of 11 lines were not different from each other 45 days after transplanting, but a significant difference existed for essential oil content. 'Genova', 'Cinnamon Basil', and 'Greek Miniature Scented Basil' had higher essential oil content than 'Lettuce Leaf', 'Purple', 'Opal', and 'Napolentano'.

Bitter Melon

Bitter melon or foo gwa (Momordica charantia) looks like a tapered, warted cucumber with waxy green skin, but cultivars with white skin are available. The requirements for bitter melon production are similar to pickling cucumbers. Bitter melon fruit production takes about 75 days from seed, requires well-drained soils, a constant supply of moisture, and bee pollination. The fruits turn brilliant orange when physiologically mature, but for commercial use they must be harvested when fully green or white as orange coloration reduces market value. The fruits grow rapidly during hot weather and, like pickling cucumbers, must be harvested daily to keep the fruits from becoming too large. The orange color can develop after harvest if fruits are stored for long periods, particularly at high temperatures. Fruits are sensitive to chilling injury and should not be stored below 13°C. Fruits will shrivel if stored under warm, dry conditions. The skin of the fruit is tender and can be easily damaged by abrasion. Trials of 'Spindle' (Takii Seed Co., Salinas, California) in Blacksburg in 1994 produced yields equivalent to 1840 kg/ha using black plastic mulch, drip irrigation, and production recommendations developed for pickling cucumber. In the Blacksburg trials, bitter melon appeared to be resistant to bacterial wilt and foliar diseases that affect other cucurbits. Bitter melon may also have potential as an ornamental plant when grown on a trellis because of its large yellow flowers, attractive green foliage, and brightly colored mature fruits and seeds.


Borage (Borago officinalis) is an oilseed crop that is also widely used as an herb. Borage oil is high in gamma-linolenic acid which is used as a nutritional supplement in Europe and Japan. In 1992, seeds (John K. Kings Sons Limited, Coggeshall Colchester Essex, Great Britain) were sown on June 13 in four rows 6 m long and 45 cm apart with an in-row spacing of 2.5 cm. Fertilizer was broadcast prior to planting at a rate of 560 kg of 10N-4P-8.3K per ha. The plot was weeded by hand throughout the season, and no insecticides were applied. The actual stand obtained was 12 plants/30 cm. The plot was irrigated as needed using an overhead sprinkler system. Whole plants were hand-harvested on Sept. 22, placed in plastic bags, and dried for one week at 35°C. The seed was mechanically cleaned before the final grain weight was determined. The yield obtained was equivalent to 540 kg/ha, but at least half of the seeds were lost due to shattering. Overall, borage was easy to grow, and no major disease or pest problems were observed. It is unlikely that borage will become an important oil seed crop until non-shattering cultivars are developed.

Bottle Gourd

Mature fruit of Lagenaria siceraria are used as containers and made into utensils in many regions of the world. The immature fruits (mo kwa) can be used as a vegetable. Plants are often grown on a support as an ornamental, and dried small fruits are used as decorations in eastern Asia. The plants are very productive, and cultural requirements are similar to winter squash and pumpkin. The fruits last indefinitely if dried properly. In trials in Blacksburg, bottle gourds were easy to grow using the same production guidlines developed for other types of gourds.


Research conducted during 1992/93, 1993/94, and 1994/95 at Orange, Petersburg, and Suffolk has established that canola (Brassica spp.) has tremendous potential as a new cash-crop for Virginia farmers. The seed yields per hectare varied from 1696 to 2895 kg (1992/93), 1629 to 3147 kg (1993/94), and 1054 to 2975 (1994/95). The ideal planting time has been identified to be late-Sept. or early-Oct. Approximately 112 to 168 kg/ha N is needed for canola production, but application time (fall, spring, or split-application) did not affect yields.


During 1994, a collection of 74 accessions of castor (Ricinus communis) was planted in observation rows to evaluate agronomic performance and oil characteristics. All accessions were vigorous and produced abundant seed. Castor appears to have potential for production in Virginia and other southeastern states.


Research conducted during 1993 indicated that chickpea (Cicer arietinum) planted in Mar.-Apr. can be a viable crop. The yield of spring-planted 'desi' cultivars varied from 876 to 1400 kg/ha as compared to 307 to 1082 kg/ha for 'kabuli' type cultivars during 1993. Desi types (Aztec, ICC4948, ICC10136, C235, ICCC4, NEC1163, Garnet, and PI12074) as a group out yielded kabuli types (UC8532, UC85150, UC27, UC15, UC8624, UC85183, UC5, SR20I, UC8554, Surutato 77, Surutato, and UC8536), with mean seed yields of 1153 and 719 kg/ha, respectively. The new crops program of Virginia State University has been cooperating with ICARDA (Alleppo, Syria) to evaluate chickpea germplasm for cold-tolerance and agronomic performance.


In an effort to develop sustainable production technology, the nitrogen requirements of cilantro (green stage of coriander, Coriandrum sativum) are being studied. Results from two experiments during 1992 and one experiment during 1993 with three cultivars indicated that increased N fertilization, generally, did not increase yield. Soil nitrogen (approximately 14 kg/ha) plus 100 kg/ha of applied N was adequate for optimum growth of cilantro. During early growth (45 days after planting) 'C1410' had the highest fresh yield of 2.8, 2.4, and 1.3 kg/m, respectively, for experiments planted June 28, 1992, Aug. 26, 1992, and April 20, 1993, but 'C18135' yielded more in later plantings. The average protein content in cilantro foliage was 23%. Neither N fertilizer rates nor cultivars differed for protein and essential oil content, but a significantly higher protein content was produced during earlier growth.

Chinese Winter Melon

Benincasa hispida (also called wax melon or ton kwa) matures in about 120 days from seed and has cultural requirements similar to winter squash. The fruit is very distinctive because it is hairy and covered with a thick layer of white wax at maturity. The flowers are bee-pollinated, and the vines may grow to be 6 m long, so wide spacing is recommended. Both round- and oblong-fruited cultivars are available. In Blacksburg, both round and oblong cultivars have been successfully grown using production recommendations developed for winter squash. Winter melons have been stored as long as 6 months at 16°C and 75% relative humidity. Cultivars bred to be harvested when immature (called fuzzy gourds, Chinese squash, or mo kwa), have also been successfully grown. Fuzzy gourds are harvested when 15 cm long and are used like summer squash. Since the fruits are harvested when immature, they have a limited shelf life.


Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) has returned to prominence in Virginia. From a low of 40 ha in 1978, cotton crop area increased to over 5263 ha in 1993. 'Stoneville 453' is currently one of the leading cultivars. Current research is examining effects of cover crops and the use of conservation tillage techniques to improve the sustainablity of production.

Cut Flowers

Production and marketing of cut flowers has been evaluated in Virginia since 1988. The primary goal of this research is to discover which species of cut flowers might be successfully grown in various soil types and in various micro-climates in Virginia. A secondary goal, of equal importance, is to discover market demand and market specifications for any species that can be grown. Studies have included cultivar trials, fertilization, weed control through the use of woven plastic "weed barriers," disease control, use of plant growth regulators, and effective methods of drying everlasting flowers. Cut flowers have been test marketed to wholesale brokers, independent florist shops, gift shops, craft shops, and directly to the public at fairs and festivals. Approximately 90 Virginia farmers grow cut flowers as a supplemental source of income. Approximately 10 ha of cut flowers were harvested in 1995 generating gross income of approximately $300,000. The most successful species are: statice (Limonium spp.), gypsophila, gomphrena, and strawflowers (Helichrysum spp.).


An experiment to determine nitrogen fertilizer requirements of dill (Anethum graveolens) with two cultivars (Bouquet and Ducat) indicated that, increased nitrogen fertilization generally did not increase yield. The optimum rate of N fertilizer for maximum foliage yield was 25-50 kg/ha. The differences between dill cultivars for fresh yield were not significant. The average protein content in dill foliage was 30%. The contents of protein and essential oils in dill foliage were unaffected by P and K applications.

Durum Wheat

Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum) comprises approximately 8% of the worldwide wheat production. Durum wheat is produced in the same geographical area as hard red spring wheat and has a higher price. Most of the durum wheat produced in the United States is grown in North Dakota (76%), Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Fifty durum wheat cultivars were grown at four Virginia locations to determine the feasibility of producing durum wheat in Virginia where soft red winter wheat is grown, but spring types did not reliably survive winters. Further research will focus on winter types of durum wheat. The yields of soft red winter wheat were at least 1.1 t/ha greater at all locations in Virginia.

Elephant Garlic

Applied research in production and marketing of elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) has been conducted in Virginia since 1987. Control of one especially prevalent disease, yellow dwarf virus, has been accomplished through careful removal of infected plants during the growing season. Other research has included cultivar trials, fertilization studies, trials using black plastic mulch for weed control, and studies on curing methods. We have investigated marketing cases of single, large bulbs packaged in plastic-mesh bags to supermarkets. Approximately 130 Virginia farmers grow elephant garlic as a supplemental source of income. Approximately 20 ha of elephant garlic were harvested on small farms in Virginia in 1995 generating gross income of approximately $800,000.


Production research plots of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) have been established in woodland locations in ten counties in Virginia. The primary goal of this research is to determine plant survivability and yield of dried roots after seven years of growth in naturalized plant populations grown from seed. Other goals of this research include growth evaluation of American ginseng in various soil types and in various micro-climates of the piedmont region of Virginia, and to determine whether ginseng roots that have grown in a naturalized environment, without benefit of fertilization, weed control, disease control or irrigation, might be sold as wild ginseng. In 40 plant beds containing 500 ginseng seeds each planted in 10 piedmont counties in Nov. 1993, the average plant population per bed in 1995 was 156 plants. These plant populations are naturalized which means that no fertilization, irrigation, disease control, weed control, or other interventions have been made.

Globe Artichoke

Cynara scolymus is usually propagated vegetatively because plants grown from seed lack uniformity. Furthermore, in much of the United States only a small percentage of plants grown from seed flower during the first season due to insufficient chilling for vernalization. Artichokes cannot be reliably grown as perennials without winter protection where temperatures are consistently below -10°C. 'Imperial Star' and 'Talpiot', which reportedly produce uniform plants from seed and a high percentage of flower heads (capitulum) the first year with minimal chilling, were compared with the standard seed-propagated 'Green Globe Improved' and 'Grande Buerre'. Plants of each cultivar were tested over a three year period in Blacksburg or for one year in three other locations. Essentially all 'Imperial Star' and 'Green Globe Improved' plants flowered after receiving 1356 h of chilling at less than 10°C. With 205 h of chilling, 83% of 'Imperial Star' plants flowered compared to 25% for 'Green Globe Improved'. No 'Talpiot' or 'Green Globe Improved' plants flowered after receiving as much as 528 h of chilling. In the mountains of western Virginia, only 'Imperial Star' plants established in the field in early May received sufficient chilling to produce flower heads during the late summer and early fall. June transplants did not flower because sufficient chilling was not obtained for vernalization. In warmer areas of central and eastern Virginia, fall establishment for spring harvest may yield a higher percentage of flowering plants compared to spring planting and summer harvest.


Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is being evaluated as an alternative medicinal crop. The focus of this research is development of production technology and education of growers regarding the tremendous income potential of this crop.


In order to sustain kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) until its use as a domestic source of pulp for newsprint becomes established and to educate Virginia farmers, kenaf is under evaluation as a summer forage. During 1993, the dry matter yield of 'Everglades 71' ranged from 7 t/ha at 70 days after planting to 16 t/ha 133 days after planting. The crude protein content declined with age but compared favorably with that of alfalfa during earlier stages of growth. During earlier stages, crude protein content ranged from 17 to 21% whereas at 140 days after planting the crude protein content ranged from 10 to 15%.

During 1994, investigations were undertaken to study the effects of multiple harvests on kenaf yield and quality. It was hypothesized that regrowth, following a first harvest around 80 days after planting (DAP), will be more nutritious as compared to unharvested plants of a similar age. The yields of seven kenaf cultivars (Cubano, Everglades 41, Everglades 71, Guatemala 48, Indian, Tainung#1, and Tainung#2) were evaluated following four treatments (T1 = harvest at 85 DAP + final harvest of regrowth, T2 = harvest at 92 DAP + final harvest of regrowth, T3 = harvest at 99 DAP + final harvest of regrowth, and T4 = final harvest after the plants had died following a hard-freeze). The regrowth was sampled for crude protein and fiber content approximately 92, 100, and 107 DAP following first harvest, respectively. The dry matter yields per hectare, averaged over cultivars, ranged from 12,506 kg for T1 to 15,688 kg for T2. T1 had significantly lower yield than the other three treatments. The dry matter yield per hectare from T4 (14905 kg) was not different from that of T2 or T3 (14433 kg). The content of acid detergent fiber (ADF) was significantly less in regrowth as compared to first harvest with T1, T2, and T3. The ADF was reduced an average of 30.6%. The regrowth with T3 had significantly higher crude protein content as compared to the first harvest at 99 DAP.

A pilot study was conducted to assess the palatability of kenaf for meat-type goats and to evaluate possible differences in intake due to leaf shape. The experiment utilized eight yearling Spanish does, 30 to 40 kg body weight, individually housed in polydomes. A 90-day stand of kenaf was harvested fresh at two day intervals and the stem chopped by hand to 3 to 5 cm length. During a 10 day adaptation period animals were fed a pooled composite of whole plants with narrow and broad leaves. Intake was measured during a 6-day period with the two leaf shapes fed separately to four animals each. Feed was provided twice daily at 140% of the estimated intake determined during the adaptation period. Goats consumed 2.97 kg of kenaf daily, reflecting a dry matter intake of 0.87 kg. There was considerable daily variation in intake between individual animals 0.9 to 4.6 kg, while daily intake was unaffected by leaf shape; 2.93 kg/day of narrow and 3.00 kg/day of broad leaf types in this trial. These results indicate that kenaf has potential as a summer forage in Virginia and adjoining states.


The U.S. is totally dependent upon imports to meet the needs of hydroxy fatty acids which have many defense and industrial applications. Lesquerella seeds contain an oil with a high content of a hydroxy fatty acid that is similar to castor oil. A bulk population of lesquerella (Lesquerella fendleri) was evaluated in Petersburg, during 1992, 1993, and 1994 for production potential. The results of numerous experiments (planting time, germplasm evaluations, fertilizer experiments) have been disappointing. The major hindrance has been germination and stand establishment. Since lesquerella was being studied as a replacement of castor and efforts to introduce lesquerella in Virginia may not succeed, it was decided to initiate research to evaluate a diverse collection of castor. The results of 1994 experiment with 74 accessions were encouraging.


Meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba) is an alternative oil seed crop that is an excellent source of C20 and C22 fatty acids. Small areas of meadowfoam are produced commercially in Oregon where it is grown as a winter annual. However, in trials in Idaho it lacked the hardiness to overwinter. Reportedly, meadowfoam is very tolerant of wet soil conditions. It also requires pollination to produce seeds.

Meadowfoam seed (John K. King & Sons Ltd., Coggeshall Colchester Essex, Great Britain) was planted at both the Northern Piedmont Agricultural Experiment Station in Orange County, Virginia and Blacksburg in early April 1992. However, there was no emergence at either location. Secondary seed dormancy has been reported at temperatures above 15°C which may explain the lack of field emergence. It may be possible to grow meadowfoam as a winter annual in eastern Virginia.


Approximately 7 to 9 million kg of mungbean are consumed annually in the United States and nearly 75% of this amount is imported. The research objective with mungbean (Vigna radiata) is to develop a new summer crop in Virginia. Five replicated experiments with seven entries ('Berken', 'Johnston's California', 'LSB-8205', 'Lincoln', 'M-12', 'OK-12', and 'Texas Sprout') were conducted during 1993 and 1994 to determine yields and suitable planting time. The seed yields during 1993 were 1567 and 1475 kg/ha, respectively, for experiments planted on June 9 and July 7. The mean seed yields during 1994 were 2706, 1975, and 902 kg/ha from experiments planted on May 17, June 16, and July 21, respectively. The highest yielding cultivars were LSB-8205, 'Johnston's California', and 'Texas Sprout'. Delayed planting resulted in reduced yield, plant height, and biomass. Based on these studies, mungbean seems to hold considerable potential as a new legume crop for Virginia and other areas in the southern United States.


In order to meet the local demand for pungent, high dry matter onions for processing and export, agronomic potential of both short- and long-day onion (Allium cepa) cultivars is being evaluated in a sustainable production system using green manure legumes and inorganic fertilizer. Preliminary results have been inconclusive but indicate potential for hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) as a good green manure source of nutrients for onion production.


Solanum muricatum is perennial woody shrub native to South America. This crop is frost sensitive, so it must be moved to a greenhouse before winter. The pepino does not produce plants that are true-to-type from seed, so it must be propagated vegetatively. We have tested 'Golden Splendor', 'Temptation' and five numbered breeding lines from Dr. Carlos Quiros of the University of California, Davis for the past three years. The most promising accession for greenhouse production was line 88588 which produced egg-shaped fruit that turn yellow with purple stripes at harvest. For outdoor production, none of the plants set fruit during the summer months because the temperature was too high. Fruit set occurred in Sept., but only a few fruits matured before frost. The flavor of a mature pepino fruit is reminiscent of a casaba melon. The maximum sugar content was 9° Brix. Pepino fruit are very juicy but easily bruised during harvest and transport. In a survey at Virginia Tech, only 22% of the respondents who tried free samples of pepino said they would consider buying the fruit in a grocery store. Most people complained that the fruit tasted like a poor quality muskmelon and that fruit quality was extremely variable. We conclude that the pepino is not well adapted to Virginia conditions, and all the cultivars we tested lacked the quality necessary for commercial sale in the United States.


Since local and regional demand for green pods as well as green and mature seeds exists, research has focused on evaluation of pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) as a grain and a vegetable crop in Virginia. In the experiments conducted during 1993 with three determinate pigeonpea lines, the green bean yield varied from 11888 to 15696 kg/ha with a moisture content varying from 79% to 84%, 130 days after planting. Shelling in these experiments ranged from 52% to 55%. The protein content of green seeds varied from 18% to 21%. Since most of the agronomic practices for production of pigeonpea are similar to soybean, pigeonpea seems to be a promising new legume crop for Virginia.


Purslane Portulaca spp., is one of the vegetable crops eaten extensively in soups and salads in Mediterranean countries, where the incidence of both heart disease and cancer is low (Simopoulos and Salem 1986). Purslane is distributed widely in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world including many parts of the United States, where it is considered as a weed. Purslane is a rich source of omega-three fatty acids, that may have beneficial effects on coronary heart disease in humans. Topical application of an aqueous extract of the stems and leaves of purslane reduced muscle tone in individuals suffering from spasticity (Parry et al. 1988).

Eight purslane accessions [Portulaca oleracea, P. sativa, 'Golden Gelber' (Netherlands), 'Garden', (Netherlands), 'Golden' (England) and wild accessions from Greece, Beltsville, and Egypt] were planted in a splitplot design replicated four times on two planting dates (April and May) in 1992, 1993, and 1994 at the VSU Randolph Research Farm, Petersburg. The planting date was considered as the main plot and accessions as subplots. Each four row plot was 3 m long, with a spacing of 75 cm between rows and a seeding rate of 33 seeds per one meter of row.

There were significant difference for all growth traits studied among years and accessions. Portulaca sativa and 'Garden' showed the highest fresh yields, while 'Golden', 'Golden Gelber', and 'Egyptian' had the lowest yields. Plant height was significantly correlated to fresh yield (r2 = 0.52**). Portulaca sativa and 'Garden' appeared better adapted to Virginia soils and weather conditions. On a dry wt. basis, average leaf total protein was 22% and lipid content was 6%. Linolenic acid was the most abundant fatty acid in both leaves and seeds of purslane. The nutritional effects of purslane dietary supplements made from purslane leaves on blood metabolites and body composition were studied on growing rats. Diets containing 10% and 20% of freeze-dried purslane leaf powder supplements produced 26% and 17% reduction in total plasma cholesterol and 33% and 20% reduction in plasma triglycerides levels, respectively. These results suggest that purslane may provide a new dietary means for controlling high blood cholesterol levels and coronary heart disease in humans.


Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a pseudograin native to the Andes mountain region of South America. Although cultivated by the Incas for centuries, until recently quinoa has been virtually unknown elsewhere. Quinoa is an annual, broadleaved, dicotyledonous herb that reaches a height of about 1 to 2 m at maturity in about 100 days from seeding. Quinoa has been successfully grown at high elevations in Colorado and also in Oregon, Washington, western Canada, Sweden, and Great Britain. However, at other locations, particularly at lower elevations, the pollen has been sterile and plants do not develop seeds.

In 1992 and 1993, quinoa was grown near Blacksburg and at the Northern Piedmont Agricultural Experiment Station in Orange County. Seed was provided by John K. King & Sons Ltd., Coggeshall Colchester Essex, Great Britain. Fertilizer 10N-4.3P-8.3K was incorporated prior to planting at a rate of 560 kg/ha. No harvest data were available from the Orange County location, although plant growth and development appeared to be similar at both locations. At the Blacksburg location, a small plot of four 7 m long rows spaced 45 cm apart were seeded by hand in early June of both years with an inrow spacing of 10 cm. The plot was weeded by hand, no insecticides were applied, and irrigation was applied as needed using an overhead sprinkler system. The actual stand obtained was 1 plant/20 cm. Seed heads were handharvested in late Sept. in both years and dried for one week at 35°C. Seed was mechanically cleaned before the final grain weight was determined. In 1992, the average yield was 31 g per plant (2,804 kg/ha). In 1993, heads in both Blacksburg and Orange did not set seed. In 1992, summer temperatures were unseasonably cool which probably increased the percentage of seed set. We believe the 1993 results are more representative of the expected performance of quinoa in Virginia. Besides poor seed set, other production problems included poor emergence in crusted soil, inconsistent maturity, and lodging.

Sweet Sorghum

Applied research in production and marketing of syrup made from sweet sorghum cane (Sorghum bicolor) has been conducted in Virginia since 1992. The primary goal of this program is to introduce modern production and processing methods to experienced producers who are using inefficient, traditional practices. The introduction of 'Top 76-6', a sorghum cane cultivar developed by the University of Georgia, has increased yields and syrup quality.

Vegetable Soybean

Vegetable soybeans (Glycine max), long revered in East Asia cuisine, has had increased public acceptance in the U.S. Soybean breeders are developing improved vegetable-type soybeans for specific niches in the market. Genetic modification of the components of soybean seeds is the focus of VSU breeding programs. Soybean lines with increased protein content, low trypsin inhibitors, and lipoxygenase could be of particular interest for developing cultivars with improved nutritional quality, flavor, and increased yield. A total of 17 vegetable-type soybean genotypes representing a wide range of values for the characteristics of interest were planted in four-row plots, in a randomized complete block design, at Petersburg. Each genotype was evaluated at the R5, R6, and R7 stages of development for pod yield and size (hundred pod weight), protein, phytate, lipoxygenase, and trypsin inhibitor activities. Protein content was positively correlated with phytate and stage of harvest but negatively correlated with trypsin inhibitor. Thus, selection for high protein content will reduce trypsin inhibitor and increase phytate content, and selection of genotypes for high pod yield and size will significantly increase phytate content. Phytate binds with nutritionally important metals and contributes to nutritional deficiency in nonruminant animals and humans, while trypsin inhibitor reduces protein digestibility. Lipoxygenase, an antinutritional factor associated with undesirable flavors in soybean products, was negatively correlated with pod yield and size, and stage of harvest. These associations suggested that large-seeded and high yielding genotypes tend to have low lipoxygenase content. Several potential vegetable-type soybean breeding lines developed through hybridization at VSU are available for further yield and nutritional determination. An improved vegetable-type soybean could be an early cash crop similar to lima beans or peas. It would also be a valuable substitute for green beans in localities where the Mexican bean beetle prevents the growing of garden beans. In addition, vegetable-type soybean seeds are suitable for various soyfood products and may have a major potential as an export commodity to Japan and other Asian countries. In view of its great nutritive value, the vegetable-type soybean could have considerable potential for improving the diet of American families.


The seeds of vernonia, Vernonia galamensis contain high quantities of naturally epoxidized oil that has many industrial uses besides being a potential additive to oilbased paints to reduce the volatile organic compounds that contribute to air pollution. The vernonia research at VSU is focusing on identification of optimum cultural practices to facilitate vernonia production under Virginia conditions in cooperation with the USDA (U.S. Water Laboratory, Phoenix, Arizona). Evaluation and enhancement of vernonia germplasm for seed yield and oil quality are also a part of these endeavors. Considerable progress has been made towards development of adapted nonshattering lines. During 1994, significant variation existed among 10 entries (9 selections and a check) for plant height, ratio of mature to immature seedheads, and seed yield. Differences among entries for seed weight/seedhead were not significant. The plant height varied from 83 to 126 cm. The seed yield varied from 490 to 1288 kg/ha. Preliminary observations indicated that trifluralin (herbicide) might be suitable for weed control.

Other Crops

Various potential alternative crops are also being evaluated at Virginia Tech. Tobacco is being genetically transformed to produce high value compounds. Conventional breeding work with soybean has led to the release of the 'Vanatto' which is gown in Virginia and exported to Asia for processing into tofu and other soybased products. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and matua (Bromus willdenowii) are promising forages for Virginia, and there is interest in growing switchgrass as biomass crop for the production of ethanol. Grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is being evaluated as an alternative grain crop for nonirrigated, drought prone regions of Southern Virginia where soybeans and other traditional grain crops have been unsuccessful. There are over 30 commercial wineries in Virginia and extensive trials are underway to identify adapted wine and table grapes (Vitis spp.). The production of holly (Ilex spp.) foliage for ornamental use can be extremely profitable and production recommendations have been developed for foliage and berry production. There is interest in the commercial production of persimmons (Diospyros kaki), Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia), and apricots (Prunus armeniaca) and cultivar evaluations are ongoing. Kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta) has been successfully grown, but only in the extreme southeastern corner of the state. A trellis system has been developed that increases yield and simplifies the harvest of blackberries (Rubus spp.).


There are five investigators at Virginia State University and ten at Virginia Tech involved in alternative crop development activities. It is difficult to predict which crops have the potential to be more widely grown in the future. Some alternative crops have already increased in importance. In 1995, over 5,263 ha of cotton were grown in the state, up dramatically from 15 years ago. Canola can be grown successfully in Virginia, and hopefully a consistent market will cause further increases in crop area. Soybean cultivars developed at Virginia Tech are being exported to Japan for human consumption. Elephant garlic has become an important specialty crop. Kenaf is a versatile crop that can be grown as a source of fiber, and is also a high quality forage. Virginia's tourism industry attracts visitors willing to buy fruits, wine, and specialty items such as sorghum molasses directly from small farmers. Virginia's proximity to large population centers makes the production of specialty items such as exotic fruits, Asian vegetables, and herbs profitable alternatives to conventional crops.


Table 1. Summary of alternative crops research at Virginia State University and Virginia Tech.

Common name Scientific name Comments
Adzuki bean Vigna angularis Willd. Potential new cash-crop
Apricot Prunus armeniaca L. Late frosts are a problem, produces a full crop about one year in seven in Virginia
Asian pear Pyrus pyrifolia Burm. f. Some cultivars successful
Basil Ocimum basilicum L. Profitable herb
Bitter melon Momordica charantia L. Potential specialty crop
Borage Borago officinalis L. Shatters at maturity
Bottle gourd Lagenaria siceraria Mol. Potential specialty crop
Brambles Rubus spp. Trellis blackberry production improves yield
Canola Brassica L. spp. Potential new cashcrop
Castor Ricinus communis L. Potential in Virginia and other southern states
Chickpea Cicer arietinum L. Viable crop when planted in March/April
Chinese cabbage Brassica campestris L. Potential hydroponically grown greenhouse crop
Cilantro Coriandrum sativum L. Profitable herb
Cotton Gossypium hirsutum L. Production increasing in southeast Virginia
Cut Flowers Various Fresh and dried, must be handled properly
Dill Anethum graveolens L. Profitable herb
Durum wheat Triticum turgidum L. Yields lower than for winter wheat
Elephant garlic Allium ampeloprasum L. A successful cash crop
Fuzzy gourd Benincasa hispida Thunb. Potential specialty crop
Ginseng Panax quinquefolius L. High value crop that is difficult to grow
Globe artichoke Cynara scolymus L. 'Imperial Star' can be successfully grown as an annual from seed
Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis L. Potential high value crop
Grapes Vitis L. spp. Successful table and wine grapes identified
Grain sorghum Sorghum bicolor L. Promising grain for drought prone areas
Holly Ilex L. spp. Cut foliage and berries are valuable as ornamentals
Kenaf Hibiscus cannabinus L. Potential summer forage in Virginia and adjoining states
Kiwifruit Actinidia arguta Siebold Zucc Successful when grown near the coast in extreme southeastern Virginia
Lesquerella Lesquerella fendleri Gray May not be a successful replacement for castor
Mungbean Vigna radiata L. Potential new legume in Virginia and other southern states
Matua Bromus willdenowii Kunth. Potential spring and fall forage
Meadowfoam Limnanthes R. Br. spp. Not well adapted
Onion Allium cepa L. Long and short day types are under evaluation
Pepino Solanum muricatum Ait. Unsuited, breeding needed
Pigeonpea Cajanus cajan L. Promising new legume
Persimmon Diospyros kaki L. Promising specialty tree fruit crop
Purslane Portulaca L. spp. High yielding vegetable providing essential nutrients for humans and animals
Quinoa Chenopodium quinoa Willd. Too hot for seed set in most years
Sweet sorghum Sorghum bicolor L. Processed into syrup
Soybean Glycine max L. Developing vegetable types for human consumption and agronomic cultivars for export
Switchgrass Panicum virgatum L. Promising forage and biomass crop but seed dormancy is a problem
Tobacco Nicotiana tabacum L. Genetically altering tobacco to produce beneficial compounds
Winter melon Benincasa hispida Thunb. Potential specialty crop
Vernonia Vernonia galamensis Cass. Developing nonshattering lines

Last update June 3, 1997 aw