A Quarter Century of
At the Bean and Beet Research Unit's Quality Laboratory in East Lansing,
Michigan, Agricultural Research Service
geneticist and breeder George L. Hosfield has been upgrading the color, canning
quality, and other quality characteristics of beansas well as their
nutritional valuefor the past 24 years.
If the small reds in that bag of minestrone mix are LeBaron Red, a variety
recently released for the Pacific Northwest, they are the first upright small
reds bred for superb canning quality and resistance to bean common mosaic
virus, a major bean disease. Hosfield transferred the genes for erectness,
canning quality, and virus resistance into red bean germplasm, which Phil
Miklas, an ARS geneticist in Prosser, Washington, then used to create LeBaron.
LeBaron also has other desirable and unique characteristics for red beans.
For one, it grows so quickly that farmers in certain areas can plant it after
early-grown vegetables like peas for a second crop in the same season.
"LeBaron is part of the first wave of red beans emerging from
Hosfield's germplasm," Miklas says. "Because of its unique disease
resistance, exceptional seed appearance, and canning quality, I'll probably
never release another small red variety without using germplasm that Hosfield
developed," says Miklas. Smaller than kidney beans and shaped like pintos,
90 percent of red beans come from Washington and Idaho.
Prosser is one of four ARS centers for bean breeding research; the others
are in Maryland, Michigan, and Puerto Rico. Hosfield and three other
geneticists from ARSone at each centerdevelop germplasm that
provides a good starting point for breeders. Their work provides important
basics, like good yield, disease resistance, processing quality, and upright
Shree Singh, a breeder who operates a bean nursery in red bean country at
the University of Idaho, says that Hosfield's work is "of immense value to
us." Hosfield is the only person working on bean quality, and he and
Miklas are the only geneticists working on small red bean improvementa
neglected market class.
"Each of the four ARS geneticists does something very different,"
Singh says. "Their work is very complementary to ours, and they give us
free germplasm that is not readily available, like that for improved small red
"Private and public breeders throughout the United States and Canada
send seeds of potential new varieties to my nursery for field-testing,"
says Singh. "I harvest new seed and send it to Hosfield, who then tests
its canning qualities for me. Then I publish the results and share the
information with public and private breeders. We are very fortunate to have
this ARS support."
But Can They Take the Heat?
One of the most important attributes of any new bean variety is its
suitability for processing.
"No one wants to open a can and find the beans mushy or split open,
with starch leaching into the brine or tomato broth that they're packed
in," Hosfield notes.
So in the 1980s, he and Mark A. Uebersax, of Michigan State University's
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, devised a series of tests for
beans. Now standard, the tests determine whether a potential new bean variety
can keep its good qualities while being cooked, soaked in brine or broth,
sealed in a can, and stored on grocery shelves. The tests simulate the exact
conditions under which the bean must be cooked and canned to ensure consistent
Breeders like Ken Grafton at North Dakota State University nervously await
word from Hosfield about how a new bean holds up under high heat. He says the
canning test is very important to breeders around the world.
"We can't tell by the plant's performance in the field how it's going
to survive the process," Grafton says. "It's only at the canning
stage that we find that out." By then, breeders have invested at least 3
years of work.
More likely than not, most of the canned bean varieties on grocery shelves
were first evaluated at Hosfield's small-scale cannery in his lab. His tests
are used to develop the two to four new dry bean varieties released each year
by the Michigan State University/ARS breeding team, which is headed by MSU
breeder Jim Kelly. All of the varieties released by the team have excellent
canning qualities. Some of these varieties include Huron and Mackinac navy
beans, Redhawk dark-red kidney beans, andthis yearJaguar and
Phantom black beans. The tests are models for other canning quality tests used
nationally and internationally.
Now Hosfield has found molecular markers for some of the canning
characteristics of navy beans. And he's searching for more markers that could
help breeders eliminate some of the guesswork from the canning testas
well as improve beans' already high nutrient content and the plants' resistance
to diseases.By Don Comis,
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of New Uses, Quality, and Marketability of Plant
and Animal Products, an ARS National Program (#306) described on the World Wide
Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov/programs/cppvs.htm.
George L. Hosfield is in the
USDA-ARS Sugarbeet and Bean Research Unit, Michigan State University, 494 Plant
and Soil Sciences Building, East Lansing, MI 48824-1325; phone (517) 355-0110,
fax (517) 337-6782.
Phillip N. Miklas is in
the USDA-ARS Vegetable and Forage Crops Production Research Unit, 24106 North
Bunn Rd., Prosser, WA 99350-9687; phone (509) 786-3454, fax (509) 786-9277.