Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

Legume Research for Healthy Agroecosystems

Cover crops have become increasingly popular in California because of their contributions to improved soil health, and cool season cover crops have sparked interest as a result. Of the cool season pulses used in cover crop mixtures, fava bean (Vicia fava L.) and pea (Pisum sativum L.) express high nitrogen fixing capacity and have strong potential to reduce grower reliance on nitrogen fertilizers. These legumes are also popular food and protein sources around the world because of their contribution to reducing health issues associated with high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Our team has obtained roughly $1M in research grants and launched an extensive research program to study the potential benefits of these crops in northern California. Drs. Zakeri and Brasier at Chico State lead the research in collaboration with researchers in the Departments of Food Science and Business at CSU Chico, USDA-ARS in Pullman, UC Davis, CSU Fresno, and the Crop Development Center at University of Saskatchewan in Canada.  We also work closely with local producers including Lundberg Family Farm, Terra Nux LLC., and Chico Flax. The program has provided numerous opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct research on legume species for healthy soils and foods. Below is the list of our active and upcoming projects:

Screening Fava Bean Germplasm for Genotypes with Enhanced Biological Nitrogen Fixation

This study was funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and CSU Agriculture Research Institute to investigate variation for agronomic quality, disease resistance, plant morphology, and biological nitrogen fixation traits in a diverse panel of 63 fava bean accessions from 25 countries. The trial is being conducted at CSU Chico, CSU Fresno, and Lundberg Family Farm over multiple growing seasons with the primary objective of identifying suitable fava bean varieties for cover crop mixtures. The findings will also help guide ongoing fava bean breeding efforts by characterizing available plant materials and by identifying traits that are associated with improved crop performance.

fava bean plantsStudy of Potential Benefits of Fava Bean for Dual Purpose Food and Cover Crop

This Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education funded project aims to estimate the economic value and quantify potential soil nitrogen benefits of cover crop fava bean subjected to one or more fresh pod harvests. The trial will be conducted at CSU Chico, Terra Nux, LLC., Chico Flax, and Lundberg Family Farm over multiple growing seasons to quantify economic benefits of fresh pod harvests and soil health. In addition, this multi-disciplinary project will allow us to prepare and introduce foods using fresh fava bean pods to Chico community.

Study of Nitrogen Contribution of Field Pea from Shoot and Root to Soil Nitrogen

Unlike many other plant nutrients, nitrogen is highly subject to loss from the soil system. Rapid nitrogen mineralization results in the conversion of soil organic nitrogen to nitrate that is readily lost from the soil. This loss may result in degraded ecosystems (e.g. harmful algal blooms and eutrophication) and cause groundwater contamination. However, nitrogen sources with a high carbon to nitrogen ratio undergo slower rates of nitrogen mineralization and are less likely to contribute to nitrate pollution. In this study, we characterize a field pea population that was developed at Crop Development Center at the University of Saskatchewan for below- and above-ground nitrogen composition. We will measure nitrogen mineralization rates of pea shoot and root tissue over the growing season of the following crop. The results are expected to help direct future cover crop breeding by establishing strategies to develop plants with decomposition rates that are more suitable for sustainable farming.

Students present findings at a conference

Students present findings at a conference.