8 Commercially Grown Crops You’ve Never Heard Of

Attention farmers and other ag nerds! How many of these commercially grown crops have you never heard of?

Below are eight crops you may be surprised to learn about for the first time.

FUN FACT: ALL of these are already being commercially grown in the United States.

Innovative farmers are meeting budding market demand by trying these unique crops.

At AgGrad, we are looking to recognize innovative farmers, whether they’re growing these crops or not. Would you help us out by nominating a farmer/rancher in their 20’s for AgGrad 30 Under 30?

It will only take you a minute and it will mean a lot to them.

While you think about a farmer or rancher who deserves recognition, take a look at these eight commercially grown crops you may never even knew existed.

1. Jojoba

Jojoba is native to the deserts of the American Southwest. The plant goes by several other names such as goat nut, deer nut, pignut, wild hazel, quinine nut, coffeeberry, and gray box brush. Native Americans used to heat up these seeds and apply them to their skin for healing and conditioning.

Today, jojoba is commercially grown for processing into a variety of pharmaceutical and cosmetic uses. The by-product of this crush process can also be utilized for livestock feed. The foliage is also digested by some ruminants.

Jojoba is cultivated in desert and semi-desert areas like Argentina, Australia, Israel, Mexico, Peru, and the Southwest United States.

(Jojoba Source)

 

Jojoba is a tough word. For help with pronunciation I refer you to this clip from “The Pink Panther” 😉

 

2. Moringa

This fast-growing and drought-tolerant tree is gaining widespread popularity for its nutritional properties. Some are even touting it as a “superfood”.

Native to tropical and subtropical regions of south Asia, it’s also known by the names drumstick tree, horseradish tree, and benzoil tree.

The seed pods and leaves of the moringa tree are eaten as vegetables and herbal remedies.

Moringa can be found in parts of Florida and California due to warm climate and sufficient rainfall/irrigation. Most of the production is currently in India, Africa, and Central/South America.

(Moringa Source)

 

3. Kenaf

Kenaf is sometimes known as Java jute or Deccan hemp, but it’s not related to hemp/cannibus. This herbaceous plant with a woody base is native to southern Asia.

Widely cultivated for its fiber, you can find kenaf grown in India, Bangladesh, USA, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Vietnam, Thailand, and parts of Europe.  

The harvest often is utilized to make rope, twine, cloth, and paper.

(Kenaf Source)

 

4. Pitaya

Confession: I avoided the common name on this one because it might be more easily recognized. PItaya also goes by pitahaya or dragonfruit. This cactus species is indigenous to the Americas and cultivated in the U.S., the Caribbean, southeast Asia, and Australia.

Grown for its fruit, pitaya is often compared with kiwi because of its seeds. The fruit itself is mildly sweet and low in calories. It is often eaten fresh or processed into beverage flavorings. The flowers can be steeped as tea.

Once you see this unique fruit, you probably won’t forget it.

(Pitaya Source)

 

5. Aronia

Aronia berries are also known as chokeberries (different from chokecherries). This deciduous shrub is native to North America and known for being both cold hardy and heat tolerant.

Aronia is cultivated both for ornamental purposes and fruit production. You might find aronia berries in wine, james, juices, teas, or just eaten fresh.

(Aronia Source)

 

6. Teff

Also referred to as Williams’ lovegrass or annual bunch grass, this annual is an intermediate between a tropical and temperate grass.

Native to Ethiopia and Eritrea, teff is cultivated for its edible seeds.

These nutritious grains are used for both human consumption and livestock production and known for their high mineral content.

Cultivated in Africa, India, Australia, Europe, and the U.S., teff is used in products like breads, porridge, and beer.

(Teff Source)

 

7. Guar

Guar is a unique plant that’s cultivated mostly for the gelling agent in its seeds, referred to as guar gum. Demand for guar gum has been on the rise, mostly driven for its use in hydraulic fracturing  (fracking).

Guar is part of the legume family, which is known for their ability to attract symbiotic bacteria to their roots that fix nitrogen. The plant grows well in semi-arid areas where rainfall is frequent.

Found in African and further domesticated in India and Pakistan, guar is now grown in parts of  the U.S. and Australia.

In addition to the guar gum, the plant itself is used in cattle feed and even human nutrition.

(Guar Source)

 

8. Pongamia

Pongamia is a tree species that’s actually in the pea family. This means, like guar, that it is a nitrogen-fixing plant thanks to a symbiotic relationship with beneficial bacteria in the roots.

Also known as the Indian beech or Pongam oiltree, the tree is native to Asia and well suited for intense heat and sunlight. The tree is also fairly drought-tolerant.

Pongamia is cultivated to produce pongamia oil. Traditionally used as a lamp oil and in leather tanning and soap making, the product is also finding uses as a lubricant and even as a biodiesel source. Terviva Bioenergy is an interesting startup working with this crop.

(Pongamia Source)

 

One of the great things about working in agriculture is that it is constantly changing and evolving. There is an infinite amount to learn.

Who do you know that is innovative and progressive enough to consider growing a crop like one of these above? If they are still in their 20s make sure to nominate them for the AgGrad 30 Under 30.

How many of these did you know? Tweet a link to this article and tag us @AgGradNation to let us know!

Tim Hammerich
tim@aggrad.com

Tim helps agricultural companies find talented employees. He is the Founder of AgGrad and the Host of the "Future of Agriculture" Podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.

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