A New U.S. Crop?
By Sharon Durham
February 6, 2003
A new pearl millet hybrid that may
become an important U.S. grain crop has been developed by
Agricultural Research Service
scientists. Pearl millet is an important grain crop in its native Africa, but
there isn't an established market for it in the United States. That could
change, based on research by scientists Wayne Hanna and Jeff Wilson of the ARS
Crop Genetics and Breeding
Research Unit in Tifton, Georgia.
The hot, sometimes arid summers of the southeastern United States can pose
problems for growers of other crops, but pearl millet thrives under these
conditions. In Africa, it grows to ten feet, making it difficult to harvest
mechanically under U.S. production methods.
Hanna, a retired research leader, and Wilson, a research plant pathologist,
developed a new strain that is only four feet tall, flowers earlier at 45 to 48
days and produces higher yields of grain. The new hybrid can be harvested in 80
days--a short growing season that can offer flexibility on southeastern farms.
The compact size of the new hybrid allows growers to use standard planting and
The protein- and calcium-rich grain may have a market as part of commercial
poultry diets. Currently, chickens are fed mostly corn and soy, with corn being
the largest component.
Corn is usually shipped to Georgia and other southeastern states from other
states at great expense. Pearl millet may allow farmers in the region to supply
some of the poultry industry's needs, significantly reducing costs while
opening a new market for pearl millet.
And pearl millet's use may not be limited to poultry feed. In Africa, the
highly nutritious grain is used only for human consumption. In time, the grain
may find a market in the U.S. food processing industry as well.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.