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NMSU research on the tepary bean could lead to a new commercial crop for New Mexico

A bright future lies ahead for the "uncommon" bean called tepary. If all goes as planned, this smaller bean cousin to the pinto and black bean could potentially be another commercial crop for the state.

Richard Pratt, head of NMSU's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, is looking at how well tepary beans grow in the Mesilla Valley. He feels that Southern New Mexico might be a good place to raise this crop that is well suited to desert conditions.

Tepary was a traditional crop for the indigenous inhabitants of the Sonoran Desert of what is now northern Mexico and southern Arizona.

It was actually in Arizona that Pratt became interested in teparies. He earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree at the University of Arizona in the 1970s. One of his inspirations was a University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station bulletin, "Southwestern Beans and Teparies."

As the publication made clear, researchers understood then that teparies were tolerant of drought and heat, matured quickly, were comparatively resistant to pests, and could produce more than one crop per year. These were obvious advantages to the people who developed them, and presumably would be for the area's commercial farmers of the time, as well. The value of tepary, a legume, in restoring nitrogen to the soil was also recognized, as well as its ability to thrive in the more saline soils that result from irrigation.

All of which explains why Pratt is convinced that tepary also would do well in Southern New Mexico's arid environment. Other potential benefits of the tepary bean, include using it as a green manure, a term for plants grown between regular crops and plowed under to enhance soil health; and they are a good source for protein and fiber, which suggests they are a healthy food choice for people prone to diabetes and heart disease.

Expanding the production of tepary in ways that are of benefit to producers and consumers is really what Pratt's tepary efforts are all about.

"I think we can say that tepary is now sort of breaking out of the minor crops category and is receiving more attention from breeders and researchers," he said. "I think it has a pretty bright future."