Tepary Beans Offer Farmers a Low-Input, Climate-Resistant Alternative to Pulses

Tepary Bean Cultivation

The tepary bean is one of the most drought tolerant legumes in the world, but was once considered an endangered species in the United States. Waltram Ravelombola, an organic and specialty crop grower at Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Vernon and the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, is one of the few scientists to introduce tepary beans into modern crop systems and diets.

This legume is an ancient crop native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Beans can come in a variety of sizes and colors, such as kidney beans or black beans, but they offer drought tolerance that other legumes don’t, according to Ravelombola.

Teparies can be consumed as beans by humans or as fodder by animals and have a higher nutritional value than cowpea and guava. Tepary, such as cowpea and guar, can fix nitrogen in the soil. However, Ravelombola noted that there are currently insufficient seed resources to plant.

Uses 265 tepary bean plant transfers from the USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network for the project “High-Efficiency Phenotyping and Development of Genomic Resources for Adaptation to Dryland Conditions in the USDA Tepary Bean Germplasm.”

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“Our goal is to start with these seeds and develop tepary bean varieties better suited to the arid regions of the United States,” he explained. “We want to explore the adaptations of existing germplasm to dry land conditions, create a high-throughput phenotyping platform for drought stress, biomass and yield prediction, and develop genomic resources for dry land adaptations.”

Ravelombola said he will perform field phenotyping using drone technology, whole-genome resequencing to identify key genes and genetic markers, followed by genomic selection in warm beans. Currently, very little is known about the genome of the crop.

Growers can select highly drought resistant and high yielding tepary bean genotypes using genetic markers to accelerate development, reproduction and cultivar release. According to Ravelombola, once the project is complete, tepary bean varieties adapted to various fields will be of interest to pulse growers, seed industries and food companies in the United States.

Ravelombola explained that his research began with a discussion with a colleague at Vernon about tepary bean adaptations to the region. The USDA-ARS grant enabled the use of field phenotyping, genomics, and high-throughput phenotyping to better understand the adaptations of the crop to the dryland farming system. Tepary bean research is still limited.

According to Ravelombola, it will take at least eight growing seasons; Depending on the climate, there may be more than one growing season per year. The first two seasons will be devoted to adapted germplasm identification, and the third season will be devoted to population development. Subsequent seasons will be devoted to population and selection progression, and the last two years will be devoted to experimentation.

This long process began last year when Ravelombola planted a small field of beans and harvested it by hand. He’s devoting three-quarters of an acre this year to warm beans, which he planted on June 8 at the Texas A&M AgriLife research farm in Chillicothe. These seeds will be harvested in September and used to scale up research for the following year.

Ravelombola noted that the beans will not be watered. It will monitor the amount of moisture they get from the rain to determine how well they will produce in different regions with varying humidity levels. Finally, he stated that he wanted to try them as cover crops because of their leguminous properties. However, seed availability will have to wait until it improves over time.

First air date: 06 August 2022 at 04:19 IST