“The U.S. spends a lot of money on feed grain for meat production,” Singh said. “A crop like the cowpea could replace that. This doesn’t need nitrogen, so it needs very little fertilizer, and it doesn’t need much insecticide spray. You get two tons of grain and two tons of fodder per hectare within 60 days.

“The cowpea grains sell for about $500 per ton, so you get enough from grain and feed in protein-rich fodder for cattle. I think this is very exciting for the future, particularly 15 years from now when we have even more drought and water resources become more limited,” Singh said.

The demand for the protein-rich cowpea grains would significantly increase in Asia and Africa with the rise in their population, he added.

Singh has brought to College Station more than 35 lines of cowpeas with drought and aphid tolerance, as well as with resistance to other diseases and higher yield potential. His work there has involved using conventional breeding methods to cross those lines with six Texas and California varieties in greenhouse and field settings.

According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Africa, the cowpea is an important food crop in many African, Asian and South American countries, especially as an alternative source of protein where people cannot afford meat and fish.

The crop typically is grown by subsistence farmers with limited agricultural resources, who use it to feed livestock or sell for additional income.

Estimates from the International Food and Agriculture Organization and other sources indicate that more than 6 million tons of cowpeas are produced annually worldwide, with sub-Saharan Africa responsible for about 70 percent of that amount. With availability of new short-duration heat- and drought-tolerant and pest-resistant varieties, cowpea production would significantly increase in the coming decades.