Better Beans From ARS Breeders
It's relatively easy to carry crops from one part of the world and plant
them in other hemispheres.
But even though they may have some extremely useful characteristics, such
new introductions rarely thrive in their new environmentsmainly because
they aren't adapted to different day length or other environmental conditions.
The real challenge is to cross the exotic line with domestic cultivars to
develop new varieties that effectively handle local environmental stresses,
while producing excellent yields and resisting attack from insects and
Thanks to productive breeding programs, beans originating in Central America
are now an important crop in the United States. Today, U.S. farmers annually
produce nearly $1 billion worth of fresh snap beans and dry edible beans.
"We can state with confidence that our agency has contributed
significant amounts of germplasm to breeding programs across the country,"
says ARS' Matt J. Silbernagel. "For example, almost all of beans'
resistance to major diseases in the United States came from our labs or
resulted from federal or state public research programs.
"The fact that we can't find any commercial bean varieties that don't
have any disease resistance factors is a positive reflection on how much
cooperation there has been over the past 60 years among scientists in the
federal, state, and private sectors," adds Silbernagel, a plant
pathologist in the ARS Vegetable and Forage Crops Production Research Unit at
Of all dry bean varieties currently grown in the United States, probably 70
to 75 percentand 98 percent of snap beanscontain some germplasm
that was incorporated from ARS releases.
Annual U.S. edible dry bean production has exceeded a million tons for the
past several years. Included in this total are the pinto, navy, Great Northern,
kidney, lima, small white and red, black, and pink beans that are eaten after
they have matured and dried. In 1990 and 1991, production reached nearly 1.7
million tonsaround 33 million hundredweight. Value of these dry bean
crops usually ranges between $600 million and $750 million annually.
Whereas harvested dry bean acreage in 1993 was about 1.6 million, the U.S.
snap bean production area ranges from 300,000 to 350,000 acres. These beans
include the string, stringless, and wax beans that are eaten when they are
immature pods. Their annual value is from $150 to $200 million. By
Dennis Senft, ARS.
and Forage Crop Research Unit, 24106 N Bunn Road, Prosser, WA 99350-9687;
phone (509) 786-9205.
"Better Beans From ARS Breeders" was published
in the September
1995 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.