Horsegram (Macrotyloma uniflorum) is sown late in the rainy season by resource-poor farmers in marginal, drought-prone areas of India. Sowing and early crop growth coincide with declining rainfall so crop establishment is often poor and yields are low. Horsegram is a ‘neglected’ crop and farmers' choice of varieties to grow is limited to poor-yielding landraces or to modern varieties for which access to seed is limited. In on-station trials, we compared the yield and relative merits over three years of seven varieties potentially suited to conditions in Jharkhand State and sown with or without priming by soaking seeds in water prior to sowing. Yield stability of the varieties was tested using data from these and five additional trials. Farmers' opinions were recorded during six participatory exercises based on farmers' trials, and their rankings were compared with those from the on-station evaluations. Significant variety × year interactions were observed and yield was generally inversely proportional to drought. Both linear and non-linear genotype × environment interactions were significant for all varieties. Variety BK 1 was the most desirable with stable yields across environments and a higher overall mean grain yield. Variety VLG 1 was unresponsive to more favourable environments but yielded more in the low yielding environments. However, it was the earliest to mature and was identified as a promising variety, which farmers preferred for its grain and brown seeds. This could be used to diversify farming systems with additional options for farmers. Although soaking seeds for 12 h was most effective in increasing germination in an in vitro study, soaking for 8 h before sowing increased emergence and final stand by 11 % and grain yield by 10 % averaged over all varieties and years. Soaking advanced flowering by 1.3 d and maturity by 1.9 d. All varieties responded positively to soaking and did so in all three years, although the response was stronger in drier years.
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