New Strain of Pearl Millet
Agricultural Research Service plant scientists have developed a new strain of pearl millet that may become an important U.S. grain crop.
Though pearl millet, a grain crop native to western Africa, is grown in the United States for forage, there is no established grain market for it. But research undertaken by geneticist Wayne Hanna and plant pathologist Jeff Wilson of ARS' Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Georgia, may help create such a market.
The hot and sometimes arid summers of the southeastern United States can pose problems for growers of other crops. But pearl millet, native to the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert, thrives under these conditions. In Africa, it grows 10 feet tall and is a difficult crop to handle by U.S. standards.
Hanna and Wilson developed a new strain that grows only 4 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, and its compact size allows growers to use standard planting and harvesting equipment.
The protein- and calcium-rich grain may find a market as part of commercial poultry diets, which now consist mostly of corn and soy, with corn being the largest component.
Corn used for feed in large commercial poultry operations in Georgia and other southeastern states is shipped in 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, and at the same time open a new market for pearl millet.
Pearl millet's use may not be limited to poultry feed. In Africa, the highly nutritious grain is used mainly for human consumption. The grain may, in time, find a market in the U.S. food industry as well.—By Sharon Durham, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
"New Strain of Pearl Millet" was published in the February 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.