Agave americana: Characteristics and Potential Breeding Priorities

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Agave americana L. is one of many Agave species that could be developed for the production of valuable agricultural products. Although all species in this genus use Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) and most have drought and heat tolerance, Agave americana also has the combined traits of high yield and cold tolerance. This review highlights key characteristics of Agave americana that make it an exceptional novel crop for fiber, sweeteners, bioproducts, and bioethanol with resilient traits for changing climate conditions. Then, it proposes potential directions for breeding that will support production in semi-arid climates. With selection and breeding, yields of 16 Mg ha−1 y−1 may be achieved. Current field observations, with no crop improvement, indicate ~9 Mg ha−1 is the maximum yield, and in arid regions, a yield of ~3 Mg ha−1 y−1 is observed. It may be beneficial to breed for a shorter time to flowering, as has been successful for Agave tequilana Weber var. azul, so that further breeding goals are achievable in a decadal timespan. Specific trait selection during breeding will depend on whether fiber or sugar yields are the desired products at a given location. Even without breeding, varieties of Agave americana are climate resilient alternatives for some current commodity crops.