Forage Nutritive Value of Selected Tepary Bean Varieties in the Southwest Desert Basin and Southern High Plains Regions of New Mexico

Bulletin 810

Leonard M. Lauriault, Richard C. Pratt, and Lois Grant

College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University

Respectively, College Professor/Superintendent and Forage Crop Management Scientist, Rex E. Kirksey Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari; Professor, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences; and Research Associate Professor, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University. (Print Friendly PDF)


  • Some tepary bean varieties tested have crude protein and fiber values similar to alfalfa.
  • Varieties that differed across environments in acid detergent fiber were of southernmost origin.
  • Enough genetic diversity exists within tepary bean to further improve forage quality.


Demand is increasing for greater forage dry matter yield and nutritive value in semiarid environments. Producers have limited options for planting summer annual forage legumes, so research is needed to evaluate under-utilized legume species. Some legumes have added marginal improvements to nutritive value of sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench]-based forages, but others were found less suitable. Tepary bean [Phaseolus acutifolius (A.) Gray] is a promising candidate warm-season annual legume with potential for the Southwest Desert Basin and Southern High Plains regions of the USA. Irrigated field studies were conducted at two representative locations in New Mexico (Tucumcari in 2014 and Las Cruces in 2015) to compare eight improved tepary bean varieties to determine their nutritive value for ruminant livestock, and whether sufficient genetic diversity existed for nutritive value improvement. The experiment was conducted as a randomized complete block design, replicated twice at each environment. Varieties differed in crude protein (CP), with black- and darkly mottled-seeded varieties having greater CP than lighter colored varieties, with the exception of one tan variety (216 versus 181 g CP kg-1 for the two groupings described). Although acid detergent fiber (ADF) was not different among varieties, differences in neutral detergent fiber (NDF) were nearly consistent to those of CP. Sufficient genetic diversity exists among new varieties of tepary bean for improvement in forage nutritive value; however, additional research is needed to evaluate forage yield potentials and possible yield and nutritive value improvements through plant breeding.

Keywords: Tepary bean; Phaseolus acutifolius; forage; nutritive value

Abbreviations: ADF, acid detergent fiber; CP, crude protein; DAP, days after planting; DM, dry matter; NDF, neutral detergent fiber; NM, New Mexico; SGP, Southern Great Plains of the USA; SHP, Southern High Plains of the USA; SW, Southwestern USA.


Increased global demand for ruminant animal food products is causing a concomitant increase in demand for forage crops with high nutritive value. The need is apparent in semiarid regions of the world (Ibrahim et al., 2014) where dairy and beef cattle (Bos taurus) are extensively produced, and irrigation water for crops is becoming more limited (Blanc et al., 2017). Cropping systems in the Southwest Desert Basins (SWDB), Southern High Plains (SHP), and Southern Great Plains (SGP) regions of the USA rely on intensive irrigation for production of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) and summer and winter cereal grains and forages (Baath et al., 2018). Rainfed production of winter cereals frequently includes a summer fallow period, which leaves a forage gap. Consequently, producers with limited water resources for irrigation are reluctant to plant forage crops in summer because if soil moisture is depleted, establishment of the winter crop may be jeopardized. Alternatives are needed in the SWDB and SHP to replace summer forages that require high water consumption (Marsalis et al., 2010a), and particularly during May and from August through October in the SGP (Baath et al., 2018). Rapidly maturing crops, such as N-fixing legumes with low water usage, may also provide additional economic value and/or environmental services in the agro-ecosystem.

Few options are presently available for warm-season annual legumes that could help alleviate the forage gap in semiarid regions. Baath et al. (2018) recently reviewed the potential of six underutilized summer annual legume species and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] for production in the SGP. The authors concluded that soybean was unsuitable, but tepary bean [Phaseolus acutifolius (A.) Gray], moth bean [Vigna aconitifolia (Jacq.) Marechal], and cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] might fit well in SGP rainfed winter cereal cropping systems because of their excellent soil-covering ability and drought and heat tolerance.

Tepary bean (Figure 1) is native to the SW and throughout Mexico (Wolf, 2018), and is naturally resistant to many biotic stresses (Miklas et al., 1994). It has long been known that tepary bean can provide high-quality forage (Getty, 1921, 1934; Gonzalez, 1987; Feather and Fulbright, 1995). Getty (1934) also noted that tepary bean stems were as fine as or finer than those of alfalfa. Research has shown similar hay yields for tepary and cowpea (Getty, 1921; Feather and Fulbright, 1995). Teparies grew more rapidly than several accessions of lablab, resulting in forage yields as high or higher at both the first harvest (49 days after planting [DAP]) and second harvest (77 DAP) than those of the best performing varieties of lablab in a study conducted in South Texas (Gonzalez, 1987). Tepary yields declined after that time, and did not persist until the latest harvest (164 DAP). Tepary forage was selectively grazed by white-tailed deer more than other warm-season annual legumes, leading to lack of persistence in wildlife food plots (Feather and Fulbright, 1995). Nelson (1989) showed that teparies were highly responsive to irrigation in the SWDB, and could produce 6,000 kg h-1 shoot biomass with or without high nitrogen fertility.

Photograph of several rows of tepary beans planted in a field.

Figure 1. Tepary bean varieties planted in 0.76-m rows in the Student Research and Education Garden on the New Mexico State University campus at Las Cruces, but not part of the study (photo taken approximately 90 days after planting by Rich Pratt).

Another option to fill the summer forage gap might be to include legumes in mixtures with tall-growing, non-thirsty, warm-season annual cereal forages. Contreras-Govea et al. (2009) examined forage production and nutritive value of cowpea, tepary bean, soybean, and lablab [Lablab purpureus (L.) Sweet] intercropped with forage sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) (FS) in the SHP region of New Mexico. During the first year of that study, tepary contributed the greatest proportion of legume biomass to the harvested legume/FS mixture, and the least during the second year; lablab was the highest contributor in the second season. There were no differences in nutritive value (ADF and net energy for lactation) between the legumes during the first season. Lablab and tepary displayed the highest CP values at early harvest during the second season, but lablab retained higher values than tepary at late harvest. Tepary and cowpea nutritive values were nearly identical, but cowpea and lablab were considered the most promising candidates for further study. Contreras-Govea et al. (2011) concluded later that lablab had greater forage dry matter (DM) yield and nutritive value than cowpea.

Bhardwaj (2013), in the temperate eastern USA, examined the forage nutritive value of diverse tepary bean accessions from the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), and several from the University of Arizona Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC). The mean values for CP, ADF, and NDF from that study were comparable or superior to those of values reported for alfalfa hay and forage soybean (Baath et al., 2018).

Appreciable quantities of tepary seed are not available commercially and can be difficult to obtain. Strains have been improved for seed yield by mass selection at MAC (MAC-white, MAC-black, and MAC-brown) and New Mexico State University (NMSU; Chiapas Select and Yellow Select), and newly developed varieties have been released by Colorado State University (CSU148) and the USDA/ARS Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS) in Puerto Rico (TARS-Tep22 and TARS-Tep32; Porch et al., 2013).

Because of its high nutritive value, palatability, short life cycle (generally flowering 27–40 days after germination), and N-fixing capacity (Crews et al., 2004; Mapp, 2008; Blair et al., 2012), it would be worthwhile to examine the nutritive value of the best available tepary germplasm in the Southwest. The objective of this research was to evaluate the nutritional quality of these selected varieties and newly available varieties at two locations in New Mexico (NM) that are representative of the SWDB (Las Cruces) and the SHP (Tucumcari).

Materials and Methods

Environmental descriptions. Regional performance of eight tepary bean varieties was evaluated in 2014 at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari in northeastern NM (35.20°N, 103.69°W; elev. 1247 m) and in 2015 at NMSU’s Fabian Garcia Research Center at Las Cruces in south-central NM (32.28°N, 106.77°W; elev. 1186 m). The test area soil at Tucumcari was Canez fine sandy loam (fine-loamy, mixed, superactive, thermic Ustic Haplargids) that was conventionally tilled and formed into a flat seedbed for sprinkler irrigation. At Las Cruces, the soil was a Glendale loam (fine-silty, mixed, superactive, calcareous, thermic Typic Torrifluvents) with the seedbed prepared for furrow irrigation.

Test management. Plots (1.5 m × 4.5 m with a 1.5-m alley) were arranged in a randomized complete block design with two replications in each environment. Planting at Tucumcari took place on June 30, 2014, while Las Cruces plots were planted on July 7, 2015. Uninoculated seed were sown by hand approximately 3 cm deep and spaced 15 cm apart in a single row down the center of the plot. While within-row spacing allowed for complete row fill, the 1.5-m row spacing to prevent vines from crossing between plots (Figure 2) precluded the possibility of measuring DM yield consistent to a typically planted forage crop (e.g., 30-cm row spacing or 15-cm drill spacing; Figure 1). No fertilizer was applied (Bhardwaj et al., 2002), but nodules were observed without inoculation. Brawl herbicide (S-metolachlor, 1.17 L ha-1) was pre-plant incorporated on June 4 at Tucumcari. Weeds were controlled by hoeing at Las Cruces. Sprinkler irrigations with treated municipal wastewater were applied twice weekly as needed at Tucumcari to supplement precipitation and prevent moisture stress. Moisture stress was prevented with furrow irrigations using well water at Las Cruces.

Photograph of tepary bean plants in a field.

Figure 2. Tepary beans planted in 1.5-m rows at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari in 2014 as part of the study (photo taken 31 days after planting by Leonard Lauriault).

Data collection. Sampling for forage nutritive value took place on August 29, 2014, at Tucumcari, when all entries were in the early pod stage, and at Las Cruces from September 4–11, 2015, as entries reached the R3 stage (one pod at maximum length). A section from the end of each plot was cut to ground level and either dried in a forced-air oven at 60°C for 48 hours (Tucumcari) or air dried (Las Cruces). The remainder of the plot was left intact for seed yield evaluations to be reported elsewhere. Forage samples were ground to pass through a 1-mm screen and submitted for forage nutritive value analysis to estimate CP, ADF, and NDF. Analysis of Tucumcari samples was by near infrared spectroscopy, and Las Cruces samples were analyzed by wet chemistry to estimate CP (AOAC, 1990), ADF (ANKOM Technology, Macedon, NY, USA; Method 5), and NDF (ANKOM Technology; Method 6).

Statistical analysis. Each test was a randomized complete block with two replications. Data were analyzed using the Proc Mixed procedure of SAS (SAS Institute, 2010) to determine if differences existed between environments (site-years), and among tepary bean varieties and for the variety × environment interaction. Replicates were identified to be unique within each environment (Tucumcari 2014 or Las Cruces 2015) and were considered random. When differences among treatment means or within the interaction were significant (P ≤ 0.05), they were separated by least significant difference using the PDMIX800 SAS macro (Arnold M. Saxton, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA, 2000).

Results and Discussion

Environmental conditions and influences. Weather data were collected within 1.25 km of each study site. Despite a week’s difference in planting and harvest dates, the growing season at both locations was largely in July and August, when tepary production historically coincides with regional monsoonal rains (Table 1). Differences between environments existed for all measured variables (Table 2). Temperatures at both environments (Tucumcari in 2014 and Las Cruces in 2015) were near the respective long-term average during July, but August was 1–2°C above average (Table 1). Temperatures at Las Cruces during the 2015 growing season were warmer than the growing season at Tucumcari in 2014.

Table 1. Temperature and Precipitation During the Study Years at Tucumcari and Las Cruces, NM, and the Long-term Means (1905–2017 for Tucumcari and 1980–2017 for Las Cruces)


Temperature (°C)

Precipitation (mm)


Las Cruces


Las Cruces






























































































































Table 2. Forage Nutritive Value of Tepary Bean Varieties Grown at Two Environments in New Mexico (Tucumcari in 2014 and Las Cruces in 2015)

Seed color





g kg -1

Tucumcari, 2014




Las Cruces, 2015











216 ab


340 bcd

Chiapas Select

Darkly mottled on beige

214 ab


301 ab



211 abc


303 ab



180 c


362 d



181 c


311 bcd

Select Yellow


178 c


352 cd



188 bc


334 bcd



224 a


292 a






Environment (E)




Genotype (G)




G × E




CP, ADF, NDF, MAC, and SEM signify crude protein, acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, Maricopa Agricultural Center (University of Arizona), and standard error of the mean, respectively.

Means within a column for the genotype effect followed by the same letter are not significantly different at P < 0.05.

Total growing season precipitation at Tucumcari was about 60% of the long-term mean, while at Las Cruces in 2015 it was approximately 111% of the long-term (Table 1). For each test, irrigation was applied as needed throughout the growing season to prevent observable moisture stress. Additionally, high precipitation in June 2014 at Tucumcari provided significant pre-plant soil moisture.

Tepary bean crude protein. In contrast to the study of Bhardwaj (2013), who did not detect any differences among 31 accessions, differences in CP were observed among the eight varieties in this study. TARS-Tep32 had greater CP than TARS-Tep22, Yellow Select, MAC-white, and MAC-brown (Table 2). The varieties with greater CP (Table 2) had values similar to those reported by Feather and Fulbright (1995) for an unnamed variety, but slightly less (20 g kg-1) than those measured by Bhardwaj (2013). MAC-black, MAC-brown, and MAC-white in the present study are the same as Sheedy-Black, -Tan, and -White, respectively, in the study by Bhardwaj (2013), but no other entries were in common. The MAC varieties had equal or greater CP values in the eastern USA (Bhardwaj, 2013) compared to the southwestern USA, where MAC-black displayed high CP across environments (Table 2). Our results for CP (Table 2) are consistent with those of Mapp (2008) regarding black-seeded tepary bean lines and TARS-Tep32; however, our results were not entirely consistent with the reported CP of varieties developed in the USA or Central America, nor for TARS-Tep22. TARS-Tep22 and TARS-Tep32 (Table 2) were not available for the studies conducted by Bhardwaj (2013) or Mapp (2008), which were completed prior to their release (Porch et al., 2013). It is unlikely that differences in CP arose due to growth stage of the varieties because all samples were harvested at about the same number of days after planting (DAP) at Tucumcari (60 DAP) and Las Cruces (59–66 DAP), and in the eastern USA (59 DAP). Large differences in maturity also were not observed.

Tepary bean acid detergent fiber. No differences existed among the eight tepary bean varieties for forage ADF (Table 2), and across those varieties the mean value was about 100 g kg-1 less than that observed by Bhardwaj (2013), who also did not detect any differences among 31 accessions tested. The Sheedy entries were among those with the greatest ADF (Bhardwaj, 2013) as were the MAC varieties in our study, except for MAC-black (Table 2). The trend (0.05 < P < 0.10; Ramsey and Schafer, 2002) toward a variety × environment interaction (Table 2) for ADF bears further investigation.

Tepary bean neutral detergent fiber. Differences among varieties existed for NDF because TARS-Tep32 had lesser NDF than all others, except Chiapas Select and MAC-black (Table 2). Except for CSU148, these differences were nearly the same as for CP. Similar to ADF, forage NDF across varieties (Table 2) was about 90 g kg-1 less than that measured in the eastern USA for the 31 lines by Bhardwaj (2013), who, as with CP and ADF, did not detect any differences among lines. The MAC/Sheedy-Black variety performed consistently well across studies with lesser NDF than the brown/tan and white varieties. High temperature and light intensity are known to decrease fiber concentrations (Tran et al., 2009), which might have been a factor in the difference between environments within our study (Tables 1 and 2) and the study by Bhardwaj (2013), which was conducted in the eastern USA where light intensity and possibly temperature would be lower.

General discussion. Bhardwaj (2013) concluded that CP of tepary bean forage was comparable or superior to alfalfa, perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata L.), and soybean hay when plants were harvested at approximately 60 DAP in the eastern USA. This should have corresponded to the early pod stage at which sampling took place in our tests conducted in the southwestern USA, although Bhardwaj (2013) never stated the stage of maturity at harvest. At 375 and 411 g kg-1, their (Bhardwaj, 2013) tepary forage ADF and NDF, respectively, were considerably greater than the maximum for premium quality alfalfa hay (200–220, 270–290, and 340–360 g kg-1 CP, ADF, and NDF, respectively; Marsalis et al., 2010b). In our study, only TARS-Tep32 met all requirements for CP, ADF, and NDF of supreme quality alfalfa hay (>220, <270, and <340 g kg-1 CP, ADF, and NDF, respectively; Marsalis et al., 2010b), while Chiapas Select and MAC-black met the requirements for premium quality alfalfa hay (Table 2). When CP, ADF, and NDF of TARS-Tep32, Chiapas Select, and MAC-black averaged 216, 260, and 299 g kg-1, respectively (calculated from Table 2), tepary bean had similar or greater nutritive value than other warm-season annual legumes in these semiarid environments (Contreras-Govea et al., 2009, 2011; Lauriault et al., 2011). It may also have the ability to contribute a greater proportion to mixtures with FS (Contreras-Govea et al., 2009), although this requires additional investigation.

Bhardwaj (2013) evaluated 31 tepary bean lines, different from those previously tested (Bhardwaj et al., 2002), for forage yield and nutritive value and reported forage dry matter yields ranging from 3.3–5.5 Mg ha-1, with only four lines having lesser yield than the greatest yielding line. These studies (Bhardwaj et al., 2002; Bhardwaj, 2013) suggested sufficient genetic diversity within the species for yield and nutritional improvement. Our study also demonstrates the potential for genetic improvement of nutritive value among well adapted strains and varieties.

One potential approach to improving the forage yield of teparies, and their suitability for inclusion in intercrops, might be to cross domesticated teparies with wild (vining) teparies. Several authors stated that domesticated tepary bean varieties have a low genetic diversity, likely due to a limited subset of the wild germplasm being used in selection during the initial domestication, which was for seed yield (Blair et al., 2012). Gene introgression from wild teparies could serve to considerably increase the genetic diversity of teparies. One concern with the use of wild types in breeding programs is that they are very small-seeded and display limited color patterns, which could limit their value for improvement grain types (Federici et al., 1990; Blair et al., 2012). Neither of these issues would be cause for concern in forage production. Genetic diversity for plant morphology by using wild types (Pratt and Nahban, 1988; Blair et al., 2012) to increase vining (Wolf, 2018) for mixing with taller-growing cereal grasses (Angadi et al., 2016; Darapuneni et al., 2017), and possibly for more extensive root systems (Wolf, 2018), would constitute potential benefits for forage production in semiarid regions.


Tepary bean is a suitable summer annual legume candidate species for production of high-quality forage in the SW, SHP, and SGP regions of the USA. It grows rapidly and is well adapted to high temperatures and periodic droughts. Including wild germplasm with greater genetic diversity may be of value for genetic improvement of tepary bean as a forage crop, especially in regard to forage CP in limited irrigation conditions. Additional research is needed in the SW to evaluate yield potential and the possibility of yield and nutritive value improvement through plant breeding, as well as the species’ potential for mixing with summer cereal forage grasses.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the technical and field assistance by Anthony Aranda and the Fabian Garcia farm staff in Las Cruces; Jason Box, Jared Jennings, Shane Jennings, Calvin Henson, and secretarial assistance of Patty Cooksey at Tucumcari; and the staffs with the NMSU Library Document Delivery Service; NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Information Technology; and other NMSU support services. Salaries and research support were provided by state and federal funds appropriated to the NMSU Agricultural Experiment Station. This research was also partially supported by Hatch projects (Accessions 0221381, 1004803, and 1010445).


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For Further Reading

CR-641: Hay Quality, Sampling, and Testing

RR-772: Observations On How Cowpea Aphid (Aphis craccivora) Affects Alfalfa of Differing Fall Dormancy Categories and Some Possibly Resistant Varieties

RR-787: Alfalfa Evapotranspiration in Albuquerque’s South Valley

Photo of Leonard Lauriault.

Leonard Lauriault is a forage agronomist at New Mexico State University. He earned his M.S. at the University of Kentucky. Leonard's research program focuses on management and utilization of irrigated forage crops, including alfalfa for pasture and hay.

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November 2020, Las Cruces, NM