Over one-third of the water used in the USA accounts for agriculture. However, this fraction could be much higher for the southwestern U.S, the dry part of the country. For instance, 75% of water usage in New Mexico is for agricultural land.
The current research by Richard Pratt focused on native crops to reduce water usage. Richard Pratt is a member of the Crop Science Society of America. He explains that food security and water sustainability have a strong relation.
They present their research at the virtual 2020 ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting. This meeting is hosted by the Soil Science Society of America, the Crop Science Society of America, and the American Society of Agronomy.
They chose tepary beans to conduct their research to boost food security while reducing water usage.
Tepary bean is the native crop of the USA. Pratt considers it an all-around champion of desert adaption. Now the question is, why did Pratt choose Tepary bean?
Teparies are relatively resistant to heat and drought compared to other beans, such as kidney beans and pintos. Therefore, teparies are one of the best solutions for declining water resources.
“We are facing growing water demand coupled with decreasing water supply and quality,” Pratt says. “This gap continues to widen, and the status quo is unsustainable.”
Teparies are a native crop. They can change the status quo in a variety of ways. For instance, breeding drought and heat-tolerant crops for less water usage is the best approach. According to Pratt, it’s one of the best approaches to getting maximum crop per drop of water. Native crops, like teparies, can shift the status quo differently.
Teparies and their wild relatives are the best examples of such crops in the Southwest.
“It takes time to do the breeding, but less thirsty crops grown more efficiently will help,” explains Pratt.
Another approach to achieving less water usage is changing the type of crops grown in the Southwest. It means farmers have to avoid “thirsty crops,” such as common beans, maize and pecans. Instead, they can consider growing teparies, sorghum and pistachios.
But this shifting has the following limitations:
- The yield of native crops could be lower than the modern crop varieties.
- Processing facilities require additional costs.
- It can take time market development of new crops.
“There is no free lunch,” says Pratt. “But on the brighter side, native crops may offer unique nutritional or quality traits that consumers are looking for.”
Why are teparies worth growing?
Here are some benefits of growing teparies:
- High nutritional value: The teparies have nutritional value. You can use it as a forage crop and as dry beans. Even the nutritional content of some teparies varieties is comparable to other popular forage crops, such as alfalfa.
- Effective cover crop:Teparies help in soil management. For instance, it boosts the nutrient content in the soil. Moreover, it also reduces soil erosion.
- House microbes:The clovers and hairy vetch house microbes in their root nodules. These microbes fix atmospheric nitrogen and help increase the crop yield. These root nodules are also present in tepary beans. However, it was unknown if the root nodules are characteristic of teparies grown in hot and dry soils.
“It was great to dig up tepary roots and see nodules that bring in ‘free’ nitrogen into the cropping system,” says Pratt. These results indicate the effectiveness of teparies as a cover crop.
Pratt explains that the potential of teparies as cover and forage crop is boosting their confidence to move forward with them.
Future research goals:
Future research will concentrate on improving teparies as a crop. For instance, the ability of tepary bean pods to release seeds before harvesting increases the risk of seed production. So, there is a need to work on this problem in future.
As a result, teparies can help
- Improve water management
- Retain agriculture’s role in economic growth
- Improve food security
- Increase the availability of premium quality local food.
Who supported the research?
The current research by Richard Pratt, a plant scientist, is supported by the New Mexico State University Agricultural Experiment Station and the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project (Accession 1010445) entitled “Tepary bean: a prospective non-thirsty forage and cover crop.”