With spring here, Dr. Nonoy Bandillo, new NDSU director of the pulse breeding and genetics program and assistant professor,is busy gathering all the crosses developed in the greenhouse and from previous planting seasons and taking them outdoors to plant in field plots.

Some crosses will continue to be made in the greenhouse, even as the plots fill with hundreds of new seedlings popping out of the soil.

“We hope to start planting by the last week of April because the fields are too wet right now,” Bandillo said, whose office is located in Fargo, N.D. Fargo has seen a significant amount of snow in February and March.

Out in the fields, the plants will be grouped by crops, whether it be peas, lentils or chickpeas.

“NDSU is breeding for pulses that are high-yielding and have increased resistance to pest and diseases,” he said, explaining the varieties must also have superior quality traits that are best adapted to the environment in the Northern Plains.

Pulses have remained an important rotational crop for North Dakota and Montana, but pulse acreage looks like it will probably be down this year.

Still, in the most recent USDA Prospective Plantings Report,

North Dakota will likely remain second in pea and lentil production in the nation, and third in chickpea production. Montana will remain first in the nation in all pulse production, if the report holds true.

Bandillo has only been at the university for two months, but he has already been talking to producers and stakeholders.

“Producers told me they were looking for new green and yellow peas, especially ones that have high protein content,” he said, adding that high-protein peas will be a major target of the pulse breeding program.

Plans and goals for pulse breeding

Bandillo has plans for the program, including speeding up development of new pulse and growing varieties that would work in both arid and the higher moister environments around the state.

He has three main goals for the pulse breeding and genetics program:

- Plant breeders have successfully used conventional breeding to select and develop new and better varieties, but there are other technologies, as well.

“Molecular marker technologies are now becoming cost-effective and more practical to integrate into a public breeding program,” he explained. “I also want to explore using other cutting-edge research tools.”

These technologies have the ability to make the conventional breeding process faster and more efficient.

“My goal is to genotype the pulse breeding progenies with inexpensive, high-density DNA markers and then evaluate that information for making selection decisions,” he said.

Bandillo plans to write a grant to fund not only the necessary lab equipment, but to find someone with the expertise to run the molecular breeding program.

- Secondly, Bandillo hopes to establish a reliable winter nursery so NDSU would have two planting seasons a year from which to select lines, further cutting down the breeding and selection timetable.

That winter nursery could possibly be located in New Zealand.

NDSU’s breeding program uses a network of controlled environments and field experiments to develop elite breeding lines.

“Most of our early generation materials are being grown and advanced at Minot,” he said. “Our advanced lines are being sent and tested at multiple locations that capture the continental type of environment of North Dakota - from dry to relatively wet.”

- Finally, Bandillo plans to work closely with producers to find out what they need in pulse varieties.

In addition, he plans to collaborate with other pulse breeder in other states and countries.

“We’re not going to solve these problems without working together,” he said. “The pulse community is relatively small compared to other crop communities (especially maize, rice, wheat and soybean) so it is important to work together.”

There is also a possibility that pulse states could share varieties with each other – or even release a variety together.

How are varieties developed?

Crosses are made in the greenhouse and/or in the field, with parents each having a certain desired trait based on the needs of producers throughout the state.

“We want high-yielding varieties, so we start with a parent that is high-yielding crossed with a parent with another trait, such as disease resistance. If we could start with parents that both have good genetics, that is even better,” Bandillo said.

Each crop is subdivided into market class, based on market demands and emerging needs.

While crosses are mainly kept in their market class, if needed, a green pea can be crossed with a yellow pea (say one or the other is lacking something that the other has).

“The idea in crossing is to find a good combination of parents. We mainly cross good with good and hope that they complement each other and gain better progenies out of it,” Bandillo said.

For example a high-yielding pea that is susceptible to disease could be crossed with a moderate-yielding pea that is resistant to disease.

The plots continue segregating as the years go on, and eventually some become fixed. Out of those 1,000 or so fixed plots, a breeder selects the best one to advance and work with.

“Plant breeding is 1 percent crossing and 99 percent evaluation and selecting,” he said.

Market classes of pulses

In North Dakota, pea production is comprised mostly of yellow (50-60 percent) and green cotyledon types (30-40 percent).

A specialized market class, such as dun and marrowfat types, will make up a small percentage.

“Recently, more specialized markets are developing, which require a greater knowledge of seed composition – protein, starch, fiber content and mineral nutrient levels,” Bandillo said.

Large green and regular lentils are the predominant market classes, but red lentils are a specific market class that NDSU is working on.

“Demand for small red lentils has increased in recent years, underscoring the need for new cultivars adapted to the state and nearby regions,” he said.

For chickpea, production in the U.S. is either large-seeded Kabuli types or smaller Desi types, divided between Café and Spanish White types.

“In North Dakota, I think the lack of suitable cultivars with disease resistance has limited the production of chickpea,” he said.

Until breeders can breed a successful chickpea with good Ascochyta blight resistance, production probably won’t increase significantly for garbanzo beans.

“If we could breed a chickpea with good resistance to Ascochyta, that would be really big for the Northern Plains,” he said.

The main problem with breeding resistance to Ascochyta blight is the lack of resistance in available germplasm and cultivars.

“In order to breed for disease resistance, you must make sure that one of the parents has good disease resistance,” Bandillo said.

Advanced lines for release

Within the NDSU pulse breeding program, Bandillo said there are experimental lines that could be released in the near future.

“There are some advanced breeding lines in field pea, lentils and chickpea, but those lines need to be further evaluated for disease resistance and other traits,” he said.

Bandillo is hoping to meet more producers at field days this year.

“We want to make sure we have some promising lines we can show to producers at field days,” he said, adding they are working on his schedule now.

Bandillo said he sees a great future for the NDSU Pulse Breeding program.

“Our breeding targets are based on market demands – what farmers, growers and processors really need in a variety,” he said. “To be successful, we collaborate and coordinate our efforts with researchers and/or scientists working on different disciplines.” 

In addition, Bandillo wants to thank the Northern Pulse Growers Association, the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and other funding agencies for their continued support.