Bean breeders converge on Scottsbluff research plots
Plant breeders from several states converged on Scottsbluff recently to have a look at the past, present and future of dry edible bean cultivars.
Carlos Urrea, dry bean breeding specialist at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center, hosted a tour of UNL bean plots around Scottsbluff and Mitchell with several colleagues who are leading dry bean breeders around the nation.
The group viewed breeding lines in various market classes, from early generations all the way through lines nearly ready for release as cultivars. Some of the UNL plots are involved in multi-state collaborative bean breeding projects: development of drought and heat tolerance, regional variety trials, long-term assessments of bean breeding progress, and others. Urrea also joined the other plant breeders to tour plots in Idaho several weeks ago and at Colorado State University the day before Scottsbluff.
The visiting scientists included Shree Singh, dry bean breeder with University of Idaho, accompanied by with Diego Viteri of Ecuador, a research assistant and Ph.D. student; Tim Porch, a geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Station based in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; and Mark Brick, a dry bean breeder with Colorado State University.
They reviewed the progress of several ongoing projects.
The USDA's Porch said he's been working with Urrea on developing drought-tolerant dry beans for the past five or six years, introgressing exotic materials from Central and South America into gene-mapping populations at Scottsbluff and in Puerto Rico. Porch said he and Urrea evaluate the plots in both locations every year.
The group also evaluated plots in the Western Regional Bean Trials involving Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho and Washington. The regional trial compares the performance of about 24 varieties of beans, including the recent UNL Great Northern release Coyne and four others from Nebraska, under different environments.
Another regional trial is the Midwest Regional Performance Nursery, which includes 27 lines from Nebraska, Michigan, North Dakota and Colorado. Four of the lines are from Nebraska. Urrea said these have the potential to be released as cultivars and are also being tested in growers' fields in Nebraska in the mother and baby trial schemes.
The breeders also evaluated the Cooperative Dry Bean Nursery, a national effort that included one Nebraska line.
Singh, who collaborates with the other breeders on the Western Trial, said Nebraska's program has made great progress in Urrea's seven years at Scottsbluff. Historically the Nebraska dry bean breeding program was famous for two market classes of beans, pintos and Great Northerns, Singh said. Urrea has diversified that to add four other market classes, small blacks and reds, light red kidneys and cranberries.
He also has made significant progress in developing plant types in the various market classes with an upright plant architecture, rather than prostrate, the traditional plant type. Upright plant types more easily allow direct harvest, a one-step process. Singh said Urrea also has developed more lines with medium and early maturity, in addition to the traditional lines of late-mauring beans.
"Generally this type of progress takes 15 to 20 years, but Carlos has made it in five to six years," he said.
CSU's Brick was viewing plots in the Midwest Regional Performance Nursery and in the Western Regional Bean Trial, but also evaluating beans in a study quantifying the long-term genetic gains made by plant breeding in pinto and navy beans. The study compares 20 varieties of each of the two market classes (from 1919 to the present) planted in plots in North Dakota, Colorado, Washington and Nebraska.
"We are quantifying yield gains, disease resistance and other desirable traits in varieties over the long term," he said. "We are trying to determine what yield gains can be attributed to genetics and breeding over time."
The results will be published in a book published by the Crop Science Society of America early next year. The book will include results for 12 different crops. It will update a 25-year-old edition.
Viteri, a doctoral student in bean breeding working under Singh, is studying the genetic difference between bean lines mostly related to disease resistance, especially common bacterial blight and white mold. He has been comparing with trials in Idaho, working with disease resistance in different genotypes. Also see how each generation of plants shows different reactions to disease.