Many of the world’s leading pulse crop researchers will gather at Washington State University this month for what may be a first-of-its-kind conference in Pullman.
Pulse crops, specifically dry peas, lentils and chickpeas, are among the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Despite their ancient origins, these crops are enjoying renewed popularity as scientists and others evaluate options for feeding a growing global population.
Hosted by WSU, Michigan State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, the two‑day event will bring more than 50 researchers, educators, breeders and producers together to share and learn. It is organized by WSU Global Research and Engagement, a unit within the Office of International Programs, which received a $50,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
“Bringing together top researchers in pulse crops is an outstanding opportunity to showcase WSU expertise while fostering greater collaboration,” said Asif Chaudhry, U.S. ambassador (Ret.) and WSU vice president for international programs. “The Palouse is the perfect setting for this type of gathering.”
The Palouse is the historical center of cool season dry pea, lentils and chickpea production in the United States. And summer is an ideal time to show off the area’s growing crops.
The small‑group conference will be held at the historic Ensminger Pavilion and includes a tour of WSU’s Spillman Agronomy Farm. It is intended to promote discussion while building long‑term relationships focused on problem-solving, future research and production. It also is designed to complement legume and pulse research at co‑host Michigan State University and its USAID‑funded innovation lab.
“Peas, lentils and chickpeas are three of the eight Neolithic founder crops that have been important to agriculture and nutrition for at least 7,000 years,” said George Vandemark, research leader at the USDA‑Agricultural Research Service Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit located at WSU Pullman.
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But like any crop, they are not without their challenges.
“With this conference, we’re trying to develop a roadmap to integrate the scientific efforts for the different disciplines to improve production of these crops,” said Vandemark, who plans to present a summary of the conference in August at the National Association of Plant Breeders in Athens, Georgia.
In addition to WSU researchers, attendees include additional experts from the USDA, researchers from other U.S. universities and their invited postdoctoral and graduate students, and scientists from Australia, Benin, Canada, China and Israel.
The conference illustrates the Global Research and Engagement unit’s ability to identify worthwhile projects and opportunities to promote WSU expertise.
GRE Director Brandon Sitzmann was aware Michigan State University had a long‑term USAID grant for pulse crop research and decided to explore the potential for greater collaboration.
“We have really talented researchers here and so does Michigan State,” Sitzmann said. “We were looking for ways to link our work when the idea for this conference started to take shape.”
“Emerging Opportunities for Pulse Production: Genetics, Genomics, Phenomics, and Integrated Pest Management” is slated for June 24–25. Discussion topics and presentations include: Disease and Weed Control; Genetics, Genomics, and Breeding; Enabling Technologies to Improve Global Pulse Production; Cooperative Disease Screening and Sharing of Resistant Materials at National and International Levels; Harnessing Crop Diversity to Breed for Climate Resilience; and CRISPR Technology for Pulses.
Meanwhile, the conference also reinforces WSU’s commitment to its land‑grant mission of serving the needs of the communities it serves.
“Creating an opportunity to foster greater collaboration in a field that is critically vital in our efforts to feed a growing population is an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” Chaudhry said. “Bringing smart people together to solve pressing problems is at the heart of what WSU is about.”