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Pulse Crops Front and Center in Agricultural Research

Jan Suszkiw
ARS
In some areas, pulses are grown to feed livestock, but the Agricultural Research Service is investigating how pulses can be used to more efficiently feed a growing world population. Photo courtesy Northern Pulse Growers Association.

2016 is the “International Year of Pulses,” an initiative of the United Nations that aims to heighten consumer awareness of the nutritional and other benefits of pulse crops and to marshal the capabilities of agricultural research organizations worldwide to develop new, improved varieties. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has long been a proponent of pulse crops. One research program—the Dry Bean Project in Prosser, Washington—dates back to 1958 and currently serves growers and other industry members in more than 11 states.

ARS researchers from five ARS labs located across the United States and Puerto Rico—including Prosser—are also making global contributions through their participation in the Feed the Future (FtF) Grain Legumes Project, a food security initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Over the past five years, in partnership with USAID and through participation in the FtF Grain Legumes Project, ARS scientists have leveraged their considerable expertise to address some of the agricultural challenges faced by rural and small-holdings farmers in developing regions of the world where pulses, particularly dry beans, are staple food crops. Their latest contributions include:

Creation of the Andean Diversity Panel (ADP), a collection of nearly 500 accessions of large-seeded dry beans of Andean descent obtained from around the world. The ADP includes genomic, biochemical and other valuable information.

Demonstration that certain genomic regions are responsible for “fast cooking,” a trait that reduces the cooking time of beans and the amount of fuel needed to prepare meals.

Use of a plant-breeding technique called “pyramid stacking” to develop red, pinto, great northern and navy beans adapted to a broad range of conditions, including extreme heat.

Identification of broad-spectrum resistance to the bean rust fungus that can be bred into dry bean market classes for use by small-holdings farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.


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