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He wants a better bean

Carlos Urrea wants to keep Nebraska at the top in United States production of dry edible beans such as great northern, pinto and light red kidney.

Urrea, a dry bean breeding specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension Center near Scottsbluff, says the continued development of improved varieties and germplasm is important to maintain market competitiveness for the Nebraska dry edible bean industry.

At a glance

• UNL continues to develop dry edible bean varieties.

• Researcher has collected 2,000 seeds from all over the world.

• Program is also investigating chickpeas for the region.


Dry bean production encompasses 26 counties in western Nebraska, with 11 counties in the Panhandle accounting for the largest share of the crop. Scotts Bluff, Box Butte and Morrill counties have nearly half of Nebraska’s dry bean production.

In his research, Urrea strives to develop quality beans with high yield potential that are resistant to multiple diseases and have greater water-use efficiency under limited soil water conditions.

“Breeding for resistance to bacterial and fungal diseases in dry beans will lead to use of fewer chemicals and help to reduce the cost of production,” says Urrea.

Since arriving at the research facility in 2005, Urrea has tested a collection of about 2,000 types of dry bean seeds from all over the world. He explains that this bean collection maximizes the size of the gene pool available.

“We have to have knowledge so we can access and use all of the diversity available in cultivated beans and their wild relatives,” he explains.

Molecular markers

Urrea uses molecular markers in his laboratory to identify sequences of DNA that control traits such as disease resistance or drought tolerance. Using molecular markers helps shorten the time it takes to breed new cultivars. Once these DNA sequences are identified, they can be traced back into new cultivars of the beans that are grown and marketed in Nebraska, says Urrea.

The Nebraska dry edible bean research program also collaborates with bean breeders in Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota and Washington. Additionally, there is collaboration with USDA-Agriculture Research Service researchers in Puerto Rico for Nebraska dry bean drought experiments.

Urrea says that several great northern and pinto bean lines identified from these collaborative efforts and regional trials are being introduced into elite Nebraska germplasm.

The UNL Dry Bean Breeding Program started in 1961 when UNL plant breeder Dermot Coyne visited a field of great northern beans at Scottsbluff and made selections for bacterial blight.

The program has contributed economically to the private and public sector with several lines released as germplasm that have resistance to various diseases impacting bean growers. For instance, Coyne’s career studies into the genetics of resistance to the bacterial blight pathogen in common beans has had major impacts on bean production in Nebraska and internationally.

Coyne, who retired in 2001, and plant pathologist Jim Steadman advanced and intercrossed elite lines from many American bean-breeding programs. The germplasm developed over the years have been important to the current bean breeding program, says Urrea.

Financial aid from the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission and other industry sources helps to support the research program.

Chickpeas

Urrea also is involved in research on chickpeas as a possible alternative crop in the Panhandle. Chickpeas fit well with existing equipment, dry bean processors and regional infrastructure.

Previous research has indicated great variability in potential cultivars in terms of economically important traits such as yield, seed size, pest resistance and quality, according to Urrea.

“We continue identifying types that will bring the greatest value to regional chickpea production and to facilitate this region becoming a competitive production area,” he says.

Carlton writes from Lincoln.

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IMPROVING DRY BEANS: Carlos Urrea is a UNL dry bean breeding specialist in Scottsbluff.

This article published in the November, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.