Panhandle Dry Bean Plots Support International Research - UNL CropWatch, Nov. 1, 2013

Panhandle Dry Bean Plots Support International Research - UNL CropWatch, Nov. 1, 2013

November 1, 2013

The dry edible beans being harvested in dozens of research plots at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center will yield genetic information that will extend far beyond developing new commercial varieties for Nebraska farmers.

UNL Panhandle dry bean plots

Examining the dry bean variety plots at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center are (from left): Tim Porch, USDA geneticist; James Steadman, UNL plant pathologist; Hector Cantu, UNL graduate student; Mark Brick, bean breeder at Colorado State University; and Phil Miklas, USDA geneticist.

The plots are nurseries in which multiple generations of bean crosses, representing many breeding lines and market classes, are grown for numerous research projects – many of them collaborations with scientists in other states and other countries.

Recently UNL Dry Edible Bean Breeding Specialist Carlos Urrea hosted scientists from several other universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Station (ARS) to perform the annual inspection of bean research plots near Scottsbluff and Mitchell.

The projects have several goals:

  • developing drought and heat tolerance and disease resistance;
  • conducting regional variety trials;
  • assessing long-term progress in dry bean breeding; and
  • bolstering agricultural production in countries plagued by poverty and hunger.

As he walked through the plots, Tim Porch, a USDA geneticist based in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, said he and Urrea are working together on a shuttle-breeding project with a goal of introducing tolerance to drought stress into the U.S. germplasm. Urrea and Porch shuttle between Scottsbluff and Puerto Rico, where more selections are being grown. The Puerto Rico beans are inspected at Scottsbluff in summer and Puerto Rico in winter, the times when each region experiences drought conditions.

Porch said the second generation of drought-tolerant breeding materials looks better than the first, and they are considering releasing some materials for wider use, mainly by plant breeders. He also inspected bean plots involved in a North Dakota graduate student’s effort to learn about the genetics of resistance to drought.

Many bean-breeding projects involve multiple, far-flung locations, Porch said. Growing beans in different eco-systems helps develop bean lines that are broadly adapted and have multiple resistance to disease, drought and heat, he said.

“When we do it over several different ecological zones, we are able to get a broader resistance.” Another of the scientists was Phil Miklas of Prosser, Wash., USDA-ARS research geneticist. Miklas said he, Porch and other ARS colleagues are working on Feed the Future, a project funded by USAID.

Miklas described it as a broad program that includes a number of different crops, livestock, and also brings in disciplines such as nutrition and integrated pest management (IPM).

The program’s web site,, describes it as the U.S. government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, aimed at reducing poverty and hunger in 19 selected countries by increasing agricultural production and income in rural areas that rely on agriculture. Other team members are working on areas such as plant pathology, and how nutrients move through bean plants. Urrea’s plots are being used to screen genetic materials used in these efforts.

Many breeding lines are being grown in a number states and nations for Feed the Future, as well, Miklas said. For example, genetics from about 400 lines of Andean large-seed beans (such as kidneys) are being screened for tolerance to drought and various diseases.

“We are gathering a lot of information and trying to identify accessions with novel tolerances,” Miklas said. “At the same time Carlos might find useful materials for his efforts.”

Also touring the plots was Mark Brick, a Colorado State University plant breeder who has a similar dry bean nursery near Fort Collins. He said the same varieties are grown in a number of locations. “I’m here to look at the varieties in Nebraska and see how they’re doing,” Brick said.

Dave Ostdiek
Communications Specialist, Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff

Online Master of Science in Agronomy

With a focus on industry applications and research, the online program is designed with maximum flexibility for today's working professionals.

A field of corn.