NASHVILLE (November 2, 2022) – Lack of diversity in row crops can lead to inflexible farming systems which puts American nutritional security at risk due to climate change. This has also led to over-reliance on a limited number of crops such as wheat and corn, with bulk grains often used in highly processed foods that can lack the nutritional value of diverse grains and pulses. Mung bean is an underutilized pulse—a grain legume for direct consumption—in the United States that can add to crop diversity. Mung bean has health, economic and environmental advantages and is suitable to the climate conditions of the Southeast.
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding a $338,039 Seeding Solutions grant to Tennessee State University (TSU) to optimize mung bean genetics and cultivation techniques for growth in the Southeast and promote its consumption, especially among people of color and low-income individuals. Matching funds were provided by Agricenter International, Bush Brothers & Company, Caney Forks LLC, Corteva Agriscience and TSU for a total $676,095 investment.
Mung bean is cheaper than meat, high in fiber and protein and is an excellent source of amino acids, minerals and vitamins, making it a desirable staple crop for American diets. It can also be a beneficial crop to U.S. growers—it can be planted in both conventional and no-till systems, contributes to soil health, is drought tolerant and reaches maturity quickly, meaning it can be grown multiple times a year or serve as an off-season crop. In addition, mung bean has properties that make it desirable for the rapidly growing plant-based protein industry, further providing rural growers with another source of profit and vegan or vegetarian consumers with healthy protein alternatives to eggs and meat.
TSU researchers, led by Dr. Matthew Blair, are developing and providing mung bean varieties adapted for Tennessee and neighboring states to agricultural producers. They are screening mung bean genetic material to determine and enhance traits that will help the crop thrive in the Southeastern climate. The screening will include disease and insect resistance and amino acid and protein levels. In addition, the researchers are evaluating crop rotations to determine where mung bean can best fit in agriculture cycles and sharing cultivation technology with growers. The goal is to help growers with fertilization and crop rotation plans and allow them to make the most informed decisions about mung bean production.
Blair, the principal investigator, said “Our team of TSU, Agricenter, Bush’s and Caney Forks and additional collaborators from Corteva and Iowa State will really make a difference on introducing this next-generation crop to the United States. Sending mung beans out from the port of Memphis and other parts of the Mississippi Valley will generate further U.S. exports. Meanwhile, here at home we will have an important locally produced crop for everything from bean sprouts to high protein processed products. Imagine East Asian style mung bean cakes, South Asian recipe stews or Thai noodles made in the USA! Or how about mung bean chili con carne? We are excited to be working on this highly nutritious pulse legume.”
Former Vice President Al Gore, owner of Caney Fork Farm, said, “The agricultural sector must continue to become a stronger part of the solution to the climate crisis by integrating management practices focused on restoring soils, reducing emissions and diversifying crops for increased food security. I am excited that Caney Fork Farm is supporting research efforts into mung bean crops that could play an important role in advancing these solutions in the Southeast.”
As TSU is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), the researchers are particularly interested in promoting mung bean’s role in improving the diet for African American, Latino and refugee populations in Nashville and the U.S. Limited availability and affordability of healthy foods is a challenge many Americans face, especially families with limited financial resources, according to co-principal investigator Prof. Sharon Suggs.
Steve Savell, director of External Affairs & Sustainability at Bush Brothers & Company said “We are honored and excited to support the efforts of Tennessee State University to introduce mung beans into the Tennessee agricultural economy. We believe this is important not only to our state and its grower community, but to the entire pulse industry.”
In addition to promoting the production of mung bean, this research project aims to increase the use of mung beans in urban food systems, in processing/canning and regenerative production systems and processing into canned products. The researchers are forming a research team with community members and research partners to determine the potential acceptance of mung bean and develop culturally acceptable pulse recipes and meal plans.
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.