Plants have many uses besides direct consumption by humans or livestock. In 1954 U of M trials documented that rye acts as a bio-control of weeds in row crops such as soybeans, naturally suppressing weed growth. Rye straw is used for livestock bedding and the grain as feed, Christmas tree growers plant rye between rotations as a natural weed control, and there is small market for human use in breads and rolls.
Uncommon crops diversify Minnesota's economy and landscape. When U of M researchers introduced "new" crops such as alfalfa and soybeans they had specific objectives of breeding for winter hardiness or earlier maturity. They were motivated, knowing that markets for the crops existed. In 1948 an adventurous research effort was initiated to evaluate all crops with potential for agricultural production. Some of the possible uses were in crop rotations, as exotic foods or beverages, for medicinal applications, for industrial products, for pulp and paper, or to benefit the environment.
Over the last half-century 225 species from 26 plant families were evaluated at U of M research stations throughout the state. Agronomists studied management and breeding of promising crops while food scientists and agricultural economists explored utilization and markets. The results are an encyclopedia of alternative crops that are used to diversify crop production in Minnesota and throughout the plains states.
Fababean is the common name U of M scientists originated in 1968 as the now internationally accepted designation for all Vicia faba subspecies.
Colorful amaranth is a healthy grain used in pastas and crackers. The first University studies of yield, varieties, and production practices were planted in 1966. Originally from South America, amaranth was considered one of 3 crops of the Aztec gods. Use of the leaves for livestock feed was also researched by U of M and USDA scientists.
Echinacea, or coneflower, is reportedly the top-selling herbal and natural cold and flu product in the U.S. It was used by American Indians for medicinal purposes more than any other plant. Echinacea plants originally grew on the dry beach ridges of glacial Lake Agassiz in northwestern Minnesota. University biologists are studying how it may be cultivated, in order to supplement farm income and save wild populations from plant poachers.
University crop scientists have evaluated hundreds of lesser known and grown field crops. The information is passed on to farmers in many ways, including publications, web sites, and personal presentations by research and extension faculty such as this 1978 field tour of U of M rye plots at the Sand Plains Research Farm, Becker.
Minnesota is a major producer of birdfeed. Many of the companies that mix and package the products are located in the northwestern part of the state. In addition to the varieties listed below, U of M research has helped develop other crops that are for the birds, including sunflowers, millet, and annual canarygrass.
Many uncommon crops, including chickpea (garbanzo beans) are used extensively by the growing number of vegetarian consumers and organic farmers.
UNCOMMON CROPS EVALUATED BY U OF M
|amaranth||grain for flour, cereal|
|annual canarygrass||birdfeed, potential food|
|buckwheat||pancake four, (Japanese) noodles|
|canola||major edible oil|
|coneflower||herb, natural medicine|
|fababean||Middle Eastern food, livestock feed|
|fieldbean||navy, pinto, kidney, great northern|
|fieldpea||animal feed, human|
|flax||linseed oil, edible oil, linen, paper|
|grain sorghum||livestock feed, African staple|
|hemp||fiber for rope, paper, medicinal|
|kenaf||fiber for cardboard, cheap paper|
|millet||African grain, flour, birdfeed|
|pumpkin||snack, roasted & fried|
|niger||birdfeed, cooking oil|
|oilseed radish||industrial oil|
|quinoa||grain, flour, cereal|
|ragi||bread, puddings, liquor|
|rape||industrial oil, ancestor of canola|
|rye||flour, livestock feed, whisky|
|safflower||cooking oil, bird feed|
|sesame||garnish on baked goods, cooking oil|
|sunflower||cooking oil, snacks, birdfeed|
|tef||African grain, flour|
|vetch||forage, roadside restoration|
U of M Varieties of Uncommon Crops (not pictured)
|Adzuki||Minoka||1980||Oriental soups, sweet cakes|
|Field Pea||Procon||1986||livestock feed|
|Horsebean||Minnesota Horsebean||1968||livestock feed|
|Sorghum, Grain||Minnesota 1||1963||flour, livestock feed|
|MA-4 A & B||1976|
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