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James A. Duke, 1990. New crops survey. p. 54-57. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

New Crops Survey

James A. Duke

  4. Table 1
  5. Table 2
  6. Table 3


A "New Crops" questionnaire was mailed to the CAST New-Crops Task Force and members of the USDA New Farm and Forest Products Task Force (and more recently to the speakers at this symposium). I received about 50 responses including several measured responses from administrators who naturally did not consider themselves "new-croppers" Even one of our leading living New Crop Scientists, Howard Scott Gentry, said he was sure he was a New Crop Scientist, but wrote in after the word scientist, "as 'scientists' go."

More than 20 respondents classified themselves as new-croppers, while fewer than 20 did not. Some were perplexed, because, like me, part of their work is New Crops oriented, while a bigger part is not. At the time I circulated the questionnaires, I was with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Narcotics Program, devoting a small portion of my time to Alternative Crops, which in many cases represented new crops to narcotics-producing areas and/or the United States. I have been involved in the Alternative Crops program since 1972, which has enabled me to develop a fine file on hundreds of economic plants. In 1988, CRC Press published a Handbook of Nuts, developed as part of the Alternative Crops program. I have also proposed a CRC Handbook of New Crops, based on the species suggested at this symposium.

Definition of the title subject, New Crops, itself, proved difficult. Many respondents said they could not respond well without knowing just what I meant by a "new crop." Definitions of new crops included:

Respondents dealing with the latter two categories, new cultivars of crops such as beans, corn, millet, sorghum, soybean, tomato, wheat, have probably contributed much more to the North American economy than those who have dealt with the first four. Years ago, the soybean, which now contributes about $11 billion to the American economy, would have belonged to category 2, while about 10,000 years ago. Amerindians were moving back north with several category 3 new crops, like corn, worth about $22 billion a year, tobacco, worth about $2.5 billion, potatoes, worth about $1.5 billion, tomatoes and peanuts, each worth about $1 billion, beans worth about $600 million, and green peppers, worth about $100 million a year.

Other flags raised with the new crops concept were:

The long list of new crops with which our respondents had experience (Table 1) was intriguing, compared to the shorter list of new crop recommendations (Table 2).


Frank Meyer received most votes as the most important new-crops collector from a historical perspective. Two respondents noted, in "voting" for David Fairchild, that he opened the door by hiring Meyer. Other respondents, less ptolemaic in perspective, brought N.I. Vavilov in third with four "votes." Other names listed included Bailey, Burbank, Cook, Dorsett, Popenoe, Swingle, and Wickham.

The most interesting "mixed bag" was the listing of obstacles (Table 3) to New Crops Development. I categorized the obstacles as best I could, aggregating where possible to enumerate the many obstacles to new crop development.

Summarily, and not surprisingly, funding and marketing were the most frequently cited obstacles. Fully aware of the funding problem, CSRS has served as a catalyst, with seed money to get farmer, merchant, and technology together with the glittering examples of guayule and kenaf, hopefully soon to be followed by crambe.

In 12,000-40,000 years, Amerindians of America (north of Mexico) recognized at least 1,100 food plant species! How many can you name? Most of our food comes from "un-American" (non-U.S.) species.

In the list that follows are some staple non-U.S. food crops, and alongside a North American "New-Crop" analogue, which could possibly become competitive, were it to receive the lobbying, research, subsidy, and support that its non-U.S. analogue has received.

'Buy' International'Buy' American
AnnonaPawpaw (Asimina)
AppleService-berry (Amelanchier)
BeansTepary (Phaseolus)
CarrotWild Parsnip (Pastinaca)
CashewPinon (Pinus)
CherryCranberry (Vaccinium)
CucumberCucumber Root (Medeola)
LentilsGroundnut Seeds (Apios)
LettuceWild Lettuce (Lactuca)
PeanutHog-peanut (Amphicarpaea)
PotatoGroundnut (Apios)
RiceWild Rice (Zizania)
SafflowerSunflower (Helianthus)
SoybeanHog-peanut seed (Amphicarpaea)
SpinachLambsquarter (Chenopodium)
TomatoHusk Tomato (Physalis)
TurnipPrairie-Turnip (Psoralea)
Water-chestnutJerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus)
WheatPanicgrass (Panicum)
Of course we have native American cultivars in the following plant genera which could have been exploited instead of the alien congener, were we to take the "Buy-American" syndrome seriously.



United, commodities stand! Divided, new crops fail! The one loud and clear message from the assemblage of questionnaires is that there are almost as many proposed new crops as there are new croppers. This divisiveness is probably the major underlying cause of new crop failure, lack of funding. "New crops," better termed "underdeveloped crops," could be developed with adequate funding. Avant-garde Americans listening to the health theme, "variety is the spice of life," are tending to seek variety in their diets, from Belgian endives to New Zealand kiwifruits. There is an impressive reservoir of underdeveloped crops with which to satisfy this demand for diversity. Diversified farms and diversified diets can lead to ecological and economic diversity. Some scientists speculate that there is security in diversity, the more the diversity, the more the homeostasis. American farmers need greater security and more options. A rational "National New Crops" program would help.

Table 1. New crops experiences of respondents.

Agave Cyphomandra Mangifera Rauwolfia
Amaranthus Dasylirion Melia Rhus
Amoreuxia Desmanthus Monarda Salvia
Anethum Dioscorea* Musa textilis Sapium
Aroids Distichlis Nolina Schoenocalum
Artemisia Eremochloa Ocimum Sesamum
Asclepias Euphorbia Oryza Simmondsia*
Astragalus Foeniculum Oxalis Solanum
Borago Furcraea Parthenium* Sorghum
Brassica Glycine Paspalum Stevia
Cajanus Gossypium Passiflora Stokesia
Calathea Grindelia Pedilanthus Tephrosia
Capsicum Hedeoma Pennisetum* Trifolium
Caryodendron Helianthus Phaseolus Tripsacum
Cephalotaxus Hibiscus* Physalis Triticale
Ceratonia Hyptis Phytolacca Triticum
Citrus Illex Plantago Tropaeolum
Cnidoscolus Jarilla Polyanthes Ullucus
Colocasia Jessenia Polymnia Vernonia
Crambe* Leucaena Probosicidea Vigna
Cryptostegia Leymus Prosopis Xanthosoma
Cucurbita Lesquerella Prunus Yucca
Cuphea* Limnanthes* Psidium Zea
Cyamopsis Lycopersicon Psophocarpus Zoysia
Cynodon Manfreda
*Reported by 3 or more respondents.

Table 2. New crops recommendations.
United States Crops
Bladderpod (Lesquerella) Leucaena (Leucaena)
Blueberry (Vaccinium) Maximilian's sunflower (Helianthus)
Buffalo-gourd (Cucurbita) Mayapple (Podophyllum)
Camas (Camassia) Meadowfoam (Limanthes)
Deer's tongue (Trilisa) Mesquite (Prosopis)
Devil's-claw (Proboscidea) Passionfruit (Passiflora)
Gama-grass (Tripsacum) Pawpaw (Asimina)
Groundnut (Apios) Persimmon (Diospyros)
Guayule (Parthenium) Pinon (Pinus)
Hellebore (Veratrum) Poplar (Populus)
High bush cranberry (Viburnum) Prickleweed (Desmanthus)
Hog peanut (Amphicarpaea) Purslane (Portulaca)
Husk tomato (Physalis) Smooth sumac (Rhus)
Indian tobacco (Lobelia) Sonoran panic grass (Panicum)
Iva (Iva) Sunflower (Helianthus)
Johnsongrass (Sorghum) Tepary bean (Phaseolus)
Jojoba (Simmondsia)*
Non-United States Crops
Amaranth (Amaranthus)* Okra (Abelmoschus)
Annona (Annona) Oregano (Lippia)
Babasu (Jessenia) Pearl millet (Pennisetum)
Canelilla (Euphorbia) Panic grass (Panicum)
Canola (Brassica) Quinoa (Chenopodium)*
Chia (Salvia) Racacha (Arracacia)
Crambe (Crambe) Solanums (Solanum)*
Eucalypt (Eucalyptus) Sorghum (Sorghum)
Hylocereus (Hylocereus) Spikenard ballota (Hyptis)
Kenaf (Hibiscus) Sweet potato (Ipomoea)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza) Tuberous-nasturtium (Tropaeolum)
Niger seed (Guizotia) Wildrye (Leymus)
Oca (Oxalis)
*Recommended by three or more respondents.

Table 3. Obstacles to new crops development as cited by respondents.

Agronomic Ignorance
Analytical Deficiencies
Breeding/Improvement Deficiencies*
"Capitalism of the Most Virulent Variety"
Catch 22 (No market:No Grower)*
Commodity-Oriented Agricultural Program
Competition with "Old Crops"
Consumer Tastes*
Difficulty of Assembling Research Teams
Disinterest in "Traditional Crops"*
Farmer Acceptance
Green Revolution
Importation Restriction
Inconstancy of Funding
Inflexibility of Ag Production Infrastructure
Lack of Congressional Support
Lack of Coordination
Lack of Continuity
Lack of Enough Economic Botanists
Lack of Funding*
Lack of Industry Support
Lack of Systems Approach
Lack of USDA Support
Lobbies (protecting extant food industries)
Narrow Scope of U.S. Scientists*
New Product Development
Overemphasis on Chemistry Overpopulation
Oversupply of Oil and Starch
Publication Problems
Redirection (Shifting Sands)
Shipping (for Tropical Crops to Temperate Markets)
Subsidies for Traditional Crops Surplus*
Technological Deficiencies
Time for Crop Development

*Cited by five or more respondents.

Last update February 12, 1997 by aw