Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published November 05, 2010, 12:00 AM

Tackling ‘hidden hunger’

Pulse crops are NDSU program focus
New research taking root at North Dakota State University aims to develop special varieties of lentils and other pulse crops to combat a form of malnutrition called hidden hunger.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

New research taking root at North Dakota State University aims to develop special varieties of lentils and other pulse crops to combat a form of malnutrition called hidden hunger.

The program – the nation’s first lab to pursue pulse quality and nutrition – will combine research on quality attributes with pulse crop breeding, an initiative launched two years ago.

NDSU’s School of Food Systems has hired Dil Thavaraja as an assistant professor to head the pulse quality program. She had worked for the world’s largest pulse quality research program in Canada.

“I’m in the process of buying the equipment and building a team,” she said.

Thavaraja will work with Kevin McPhee, an associate professor and NDSU’s pulse crop breeder.

An early focus of the quality breeding program is to screen pulse crops for attributes including beneficial levels of key micronutrients, including iron, zinc and selenium.

“We can use that as the starting point,” McPhee said, adding that the information will guide crop breeding work.

A third of the world’s population, in poor and developing countries, suffers from “hidden malnutrition” because of diets that rely heavily on a few staples, such as rice, corn or wheat.

Enter pulse crops – peas, lentils, chick peas and dry beans – as a means of providing important micronutrients.

Northwest North Dakota and eastern Montana grow 90 percent of the nation’s pulse crops – which derive their name from the pulse or covering of a pod – and up to 85 percent of the harvest is exported.

If North Dakota pulse growers can deliver crops that help solve malnutrition problems, it will open new markets, McPhee said.

“It gives the processors and exporters and added marketing tool,” he said.

Pulse growers support the new research initiative, which the industry also believes could address health concerns, including heart disease, obesity and diabetes in the United States through a healthier diet.

“This has been a priority of our industry for more than 10 years,” said Shannon Berndt, executive director of the Northern Pulse Growers Association, based in Bismarck.

“It means a lot, not only to the state but the entire region,” she said of the new program. “Our region has really seen an explosion of acres in the last couple of years.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

Tags: