Submitted to: Industrial Crops and Products
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/21/2006
Publication Date: 11/1/2006
Citation: Gesch, R.W., Forcella, F., Olness, A.E., Archer, D.W., Hebard, A. 2006. Agricultural management of cuphea and potential for commercial production in the Northern Corn Belt. Industrial Crops and Products. 24(3):300-306.
Interpretive Summary: Cuphea is a new oilseed crop being developed as a domestically-grown replacement for tropical plant oils, such as coconut and palm oil. Billions of pounds of these oils are imported into the U.S. every year to make soaps and detergents, industrial lubricants, and cosmetic products. A crop source for this oil, such as cuphea that can be grown in temperate, non-tropical climates, will be of great value to U.S. agriculture and chemical industries. The North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris, MN, has researched cuphea for the past six years. During this time, we have proven that cuphea grows well in the upper Midwest, particularly MN, and can be used in crop rotation with corn and soybean. Our research has resulted in developing a set of "best management practices" for growing cuphea. In 2004, our team of researchers cooperated with private industry to commercially grow cuphea for the first-time ever "on-farm" in the U.S. In this article, we summarize some of our most important research findings in terms of producing cuphea as an agricultural crop. We also discuss some of the things we learned from cooperating with private industry and farmers to grow cuphea "on-farm" for the first time as a new crop. Farmers will benefit from growing cuphea by diversifying their crop rotations and the U.S. chemical industry will benefit by having a domestic replacement for tropical plant oils.
Technical Abstract: 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. Our primary goal is to provide an economically viable crop that can be rotated with maize (Zea mays L.) and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] in the upper Midwest region of the U.S. The semi-domesticated genotype, PSR23, developed through the interspecific hybridization of Cuphea viscosissima Jacq. (native to the U.S.) x 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. By using best management practices developed through our research, seed yields in excess of 1000 kg ha-1 have been achieved. 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 with six farmers within a 32 km radius of Morris, Minnesota (45.35 deg N, 95.53 deg W), to produce from two to four 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 to 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.