Crop field - uncommon crops.Uncommon Crops

Plants have many uses besides direct consumption by humans or livestock. In 1954 U of M trials documented that rye acts as a bio-control of weeds in row crops such as soybeans, naturally suppressing weed growth. Rye straw is used for livestock bedding and the grain as feed, Christmas tree growers plant rye between rotations as a natural weed control, and there is small market for human use in breads and rolls.

Echinacea (coneflower).

Echinacea, or coneflower, is reportedly the top-selling herbal and natural cold and flu product in the U.S. It was used by American Indians for medicinal purposes more than any other plant. Echinacea plants originally grew on the dry beach ridges of glacial Lake Agassiz in northwestern Minnesota. University biologists are studying how it may be cultivated, in order to supplement farm income and save wild populations from plant poachers.

Uncommon crops diversify Minnesota's economy and landscape. When U of M researchers introduced "new" crops such as alfalfa and soybeans they had specific objectives of breeding for winter hardiness or earlier maturity. They were motivated, knowing that markets for the crops existed. In 1948 an adventurous research effort was initiated to evaluate all crops with potential for agricultural production. Some of the possible uses were in crop rotations, as exotic foods or beverages, for medicinal applications, for industrial products, for pulp and paper, or to benefit the environment.

Over the last half-century 225 species from 26 plant families were evaluated at U of M research stations throughout the state. Agronomists studied management and breeding of promising crops while food scientists and agricultural economists explored utilization and markets. The results are an encyclopedia of alternative crops that are used to diversify crop production in Minnesota and throughout the plains states.

Scientists discuss rye in field.

University crop scientists have evaluated hundreds of lesser known and grown field crops. The information is passed on to farmers in many ways, including publications, web sites, and personal presentations by research and extension faculty such as this 1978 field tour of U of M rye plots at the Sand Plains Research Farm, Becker.

U of M Rye Varieties

Caribou                   1954
Elk                          1959
Emerald                  n/a
Pearl                       1964
Swedish Minn. #2    n/a
Von Lochow            1954
Rymin                     1973

U of M Varieties Used as Birdfeed

Minnesota is a major producer of birdfeed. Many of the companies that mix and package the products are located in the northwestern part of the state. In addition to the varieties listed below, U of M research has helped develop other crops that are for the birds, including sunflowers, millet, and annual canarygrass.

Alden canarygrass      1973
Keet canarygrass        1979
Elias canarygrass         1983
Snowbird millet           1973
Minco millet                1976
Minsum millet             1980
Petite tickbean            1975


Amaranth Grain

Colorful amaranth is a healthy grain used in pastas and crackers. The first University studies of yield, varieties, and production practices were planted in 1966. Originally from South America, amaranth was considered one of 3 crops of the Aztec gods. Use of the leaves for livestock feed was also researched by U of M and USDA scientists.

Continue on to Oil Crops

U of M Varieties of Uncommon Crops

Minoka1980Adzuki, soups, sweet cakes
Procon1986Field pea, livestock feed
Minnesota Horsebean1968Horsebean, livestock feed
Minnesota 11963Sorghum, grain, flour, livestock feed
RS 4551976
MA-4 A & B1976

Uncommon Crops Evaluated by the U of M

AmaranthGrain for flour, cereal
Annual Canary GrassBird feed, potential food
BuckwheatPancake flour, (Japanese) noodles
CamelinaVegetable oil
CanolaMajor edible oil
ChickpeaSalads, soups
ConeflowerHerb, natural medicine
CrambeIndustrial oil
CrownvetchRoadside reclamation
FababeanMiddle Eastern food, livestock feed
FieldbeanNavy, pinto, kidney, great northern
FieldpeaAnimal feed, human
FlaxLinseed oil, edible oil, linen, paper
Grain SorghumLivestock feed, African staple
HempFiber for rope, paper, medicinal
KenafFiber for cardboard, cheap paper
LentilSoups, sprouts
MilletAfrican grain, flour, bird feed
PumpkinSnack, roasted & fried
NigerBird feed, cooking oil
Oilseed RadishIndustrial oil
PeanutOil, feed
QuinoaGrain, flour, cereal
RagiBread, puddings, liquor
RapeIndustrial oil, ancestor of canola
RyeFlour, livestock feed, whisky
SafflowerCooking oil, bird feed
SesameGarnish on baked goods, cooking oil
SunflowerCooking oil, snacks, bird feed
TefAfrican grain, flour
VetchForage, roadside restoration