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Agricultural management of cuphea and potential for commercial production in the Northern Corn Belt

Gesch, R., Forcella, F., Olness, A., Archer, D., Hebard, A.
Industrial crops and products 2006 v.24 no.3 pp. 300
water content, agricultural management, Cuphea, field experimentation, oil crops, commercialization, best management practices, interspecific hybridization, medium chain fatty acids, seed crop production, Minnesota
Cuphea is a new oilseed crop that has undergone agricultural domestication for approximately the past 20 years. Its seed is rich in small- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are highly valued for manufacturing soaps, detergents, personal care products, and industrial lubricants. Since 1999, we have focused on developing an agricultural management strategy for cuphea production utilizing conventional technologies to minimize the need for specialized equipment. The semi-domesticated genotype, PSR23, developed through the interspecific hybridization of Cuphea viscosissima Jacq. (native to the US) with C. lanceolata W.T. Aiton (native to Mexico) performs well in temperate, short growing-season climates. PSR23 is an annual plant with a relatively shallow root system, a high water requirement for growth, and prefers mild temperatures for growth and development. Using best management practices we have developed, seed yields in excess of 1000 kg ha-1 have been achieved in research trials. The summer of 2004 marked the first year for an experimental commercialization of cuphea. Technology Crops International, in cooperation with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, contracted six farmers within a 32 km radius of Morris, Minnesota (45.35°N, 95.53°W) to produce from 2 to 4 ha each of cuphea for a total of 18.6 ha. Some of the crop (about 2.6 ha) was lost to severe weather and herbicide drift from nearby crops, but the harvestable plantings produced seed yields ranging from approximately 78-744 kg ha-1 at 12% moisture. Valuable knowledge was learned through this experience that might not have been gained by plot-scale experiments alone. For instance, post-harvest management of seed on a large-scale (e.g., drying, cleaning, and storing) was problematic, indicating a further need for research and development in this area. Overall, the 2004 commercialization project made considerable progress in advancing cuphea towards large-scale production. This paper reviews some of our research results regarding best agronomic practices for cuphea production and reports on results obtained from the 2004 commercialization project.