The 68th United Nations Assembly/Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse to focus increased interest on pulse crop research programs, as well as the benefits of production and consumption of pulses worldwide.
Pulses are annual leguminous crops such as lentils, edible beans, peas and chickpeas. Leguminous crops increase soil fertility by adding nitrogen back into soil. They also use less water than many other cultivated crops and have a deep root structure that is healthy for crop rotations. Pulse crops are nutrient dense and contain proteins, vitamins and dietary fiber. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, North Dakota is ranked first for edible bean and second for pea and lentil production. Close to 40 percent of U.S. dry bean production is from North Dakota.
NDSU's fully integrated pulse program includes two dedicated breeding programs and a pulse quality research program that is unique in the United States. Researchers from the plant pathology department and Extension Service also work closely with Department of Plant Sciences personnel. All programs function together to produce a full complement of current and cutting-edge research and information on pulse production and end use.
The two breeding programs are the Pulse Breeding program led by Kevin McPhee and the Dry Edible Bean Breeding program led by Juan Osorno. Clifford Hall leads the Pulse End Quality program. Other contributors to pulse research at NDSU include professor Burton Johnson and Extension agronomist Hans Kandel in the Department of Plant Sciences, Department of Plant Pathology assistant professor Julie Pasche, and professor and Extension Food and Nutrition specialist Julie Garden Robinson.
According to Hall, assessing the chemistry and processing of raw pulses is the main mission of the Pulse End Quality research program. Factors such as yield, moisture content, protein and starch composition, nutritional components, hydration and starch composition of pulse crops are measured yearly and compared to historical data in order to track the quality of regional pulse crops. He publishes a U.S. Pulse Crop Quality Survey yearly.
Innovative product development using pulses is also an important aspect of Hall’s research program. Several current projects include working to improve the taste of pea flour for gluten-free foods, using pea proteins to replace eggs for emulsification in food products, utilizing pea proteins in protein drinks and comparing edible bean cotyledons and whole beans for flour production.
The Pulse Breeding program run by McPhee is a program in the Department of Plant Sciences. He is the first breeder in the program, which began in 2008. The focus of his program is to develop improved cultivars of pea, lentil and chickpea for the northern plains region.
Osorno has worked as the NDSU dry edible bean breeder since 2007. The program originated in 1980. Osorno evaluates pinto, navy, black, kidney, great northern, small red and pink beans in the breeding program, working for improved disease resistance, seed yield and quality factors.
Osorno also collaborates with dry bean geneticist and biotechnologist Phillip McClean with whom he will attend and participate in the Pan-African Grain Legume and World Cowpea Conference. The stated goal of the conference is to “create synergies and enhance networking and collaboration in grain legumes research.”
NDSU was the leading institution, with McClean as the project leader, for research that developed the bean genome sequence published in Nature Genetics in 2014.