Table of Contents
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
- ALTERNATIVE CROPS
- Adzuki Bean
- Bitter Melon
- Bottle Gourd
- Chinese Winter Melon
- Cut Flowers
- Durum Wheat
- Elephant Garlic
- Globe Artichoke
- Sweet Sorghum
- Vegetable Soybean
- Other Crops
- 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 (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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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 (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
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
- Parry, O., Okwuasaba, and C. Ejike. 1988. Effect of an aqueous extract of
Portulaca oleracea leaves on smooth muscle and rat blood pressure. J.
- Simopoulos, A.P. and N. Salem, Jr. 1986. Purslane: a terrestrial source of
omega-three fatty acids. N. Engl. J. Med. 315:833.
- Welbaum, G.E. 1993. Public sponsored new crops research and development
projects in Virginia. p. 109-111. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New
crops. Wiley, New York.
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