Writer: Adam Russell, 903-834-6191, [email protected]

Contact: Dr. Gerald Smith, 903-834-6191, [email protected]

A new forage cowpea variety – Ace – blends a number of desirable characteristics into into a well-rounded option for livestock, wildlife and improved soil health, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research expert.

Ace is a small-seed cowpea cultivar developed for forage and hay production, as a cover crop and as a wildlife supplemental planting, said Dr. Gerald Smith, AgriLife Research plant breeder in Overton.

cowpeas and cowpea pods
Ace cowpea is a new forage cultivar release by Texas A&M AgriLife Research. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Gerald Smith)

Cowpea is a warm-season, drought-tolerant legume. Diverse varieties are used as green vegetables for human consumption, for livestock forage and wildlife browse and as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop to improve soil health, Smith said.

The new cowpea variety was developed in the AgriLife Research Forage Legume Breeding Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Centers in Overton and Vernon. It was released in May, certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture State Seed and Plant Board in June and is available from Turner Seed and Justin Seed.

AgriLife Research breeding produced a new variety with qualities including a small seed size, high biomass yields and an extended growing season. The variety’s biomass matures earlier with a first bloom in late August and seed maturity in northeast Texas by mid-October.

“It wasn’t bred to be an edible variety for humans, but it’s a great forage and browse cowpea, has good vegetation that grows throughout the season and can be utilized for hay or as a cover crop,” Smith said. “It can also be produced for seed here in Texas, which brings a value-added component to its potential.”

Smith said Ace is comparable to an older variety mix called Iron and Clay, which is widely used in Texas and the Southern U.S. as supplemental plantings for white-tailed deer. But Iron and Clay is a very late flowering variety and seed production is restricted in North Texas due to winter kill prior to seed maturation.

cowpea plants in field
Ace cowpea is a good option for livestock forage and hay, wildlife browse or as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Gerald Smith)

Forage biomass production of Ace on dryland acres in Overton was 2,539 and 4,200 pounds per acre in 2013 and 2016, respectively, Smith said. Forage biomass production at Vernon in 2015, 2016 and 2017 was 3,470, 5,302 and 6,015 pounds per acre, respectively.

Protein content of Ace forage at Vernon in 2015 and 2016 was 16.5 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively, he said.

Smith said Ace is clearly applicable to produce browse for deer, but researchers also will be studying its use to supplement quail and turkey.

“It’s useful in mixtures with other wildlife plants such as millet, sunflowers and sorghum,” he said. “Its seed size means producers get more seed per pound, and that lends well to lower seeding rates, which reduces costs.”

Smith said the new variety has also shown potential for annual reseeding.

Greenhouse studies from two years of seed production indicate about half of an Ace cowpea seed crop will germinate in the first month after seed maturity, and the other half will germinate slowly over about 60 or 70 days assuming moisture and temperature conditions are appropriate for germination.

The reseeding trait of Ace needs further field testing but could be a valuable tool in stand management, he said.

“That’s another selling point for this variety,” he said. “If allowed to reseed, we think at least half the seed crop of Ace would germinate. That in turn will mean cost savings for producers.”

Smith said Ace represents a valuable cultivar with various market applications that will be important to the Texas seed industry.

“It’s a really good, new and different forage cowpea,” Smith said. “We think its characteristics and potential make it stand out as an option for a wide range of agricultural activities.”