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Mung beans 101

Researchers are looking at mung beans as a potential new Prairie pulse crop, but these beans have yet to themselves profitable

According to Dr. Alireza Navabi, dry bean breeder for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ontario, mung beans are a very healthy source of food, with a power combination of minerals and protein, 


“They are being used in different ways in different parts of the world,” said Navabi. “In East Asia, they’re used as a sprout in food. In other parts of the world, they’re use as dry seeds in different cooked foods, like mung bean soup or in rice dishes.”


Like any legume, mung beans fix nitrogen. Navabi says, “Mung bean is one of the particularly good ones when it comes to nitrogen fixation.”


Mung beans grow well in Ontario, Navabi says. “They flower very nicely, mature, and yield, but for them to become part of the crop in any given system, they need to be profitable for growers — which has yet to be proven the case in Ontario. 


“Some companies have shown interest in mung beans and have initiated some work in breeding programs, as Ontario companies have been approached by mung bean growers in places like Japan. These companies have been trying it the last few years, but there are some challenges we’re facing — mainly in the market. 


“There are biological and environmental challenges — whether or not we can grow mung beans in Ontario and if they can adapt here. The answer is ‘yes.’ “We’ve tested a number of mung bean varieties, and a good number of them perform well here. However, Navabi advises caution.


“There are biological challenges we haven’t experienced yet, diseases that mung beans may be susceptible to. We haven’t been growing it long enough to see how this will go, but will know better further down the road. 


“If you’re considering giving mung beans a go, treat them as a new species that are quite different than dry beans (in terms of agronomic practices, market, and environmental adaptation). Using the right variety is also important, so farmers should consult with their area experts.” 


Mung beans in Manitoba


According to AAFC research scientist Dr. Deng-Jin Bing, “As mung beans are small-seeded legumes that can potentially be grown in most regions adapted for soybean and dry bean, they may be suitable to southern Manitoba.” 


“We still have a lot to do to ensure mung beans are a competitive pulse crop,” Bing says. Farmers must be able to make a profit from it and we have to know there’s a customer base of Canadians who’d buy them. It must be a high quality, profitable crop, as well as one that we can export elsewhere.”


“I’ve worked with mung beans in plant introduction and adaptation trials,” said Bing. “I’ve been introducing potentially adaptive breeding lines and varieties to see if they can be grown in Canada, including mung beans (as an alternative pulse crop in certain parts of Canada). We’ve done these trials in southern Alberta and in Morden, MB. 


Over the last couple of years, trials have been conducted at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Morden (supported in part by the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association). 


Objectives of these trials include evaluating mung bean lines introduced from China that matured and set seeds in exploratory trials and selecting those most suitable for southern Manitoba, as well as investigating the appropriate seeding rate and date of mung bean for southern Manitoba.


“We introduced many elite breeding lines from China and grew them in Morden,” said Bing. “The majority of the introduced lines reached maturity and set seeds quite well in these exploratory trials. Unfortunately, information from these trials is very limited due to the very limited seeds and resources available.”


Bing expects that by the completion of the study, two or more mung bean lines will be identified that are suitable for southern Manitoba. 


“The focus of this project is to evaluate the possibility of mung bean production in southern Manitoba. Our studies in early years showed that certain mung bean germplasm lines had potential in the Morden area. In 2010 and 2011, we grew the six best genotypes selected from our early exploratory studies in Morden.”


As for the future, Bing says, “It might take a little more time, but I definitely think that, according to the research so far, mung beans have a great potential here — though I can’t see them becoming as big as soybeans in Canada, due to adaptation and production challenges. Hopefully the future will prove me wrong.” †


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