Panhandle Perspectives - February 14, 2017

Did you know? Research was a Major Force for Expanding Dry Bean Production in Nebraska (Part I)

Robert M. Harveson, Extension Plant Pathologist, and Carlos A. Urrea, Dry Bean Breeder
University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center

After dry bean production began in New York state in the 1830s, production slowly spread westward to Michigan, the central high plains (Nebraska, and Colorado), and the west coast in California and Idaho. By the 1890s, production had expanded to yield 500,000 bushels nationwide.

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Bob Harveson
Carlos Urrea

In large part, production acreage increases and yield improvements were promoted by research, particularly in those locations that invested in breeding programs. 

Emerson and Brown

Dry bean research began in Nebraska in 1898, when Rollings A. Emerson accepted a position with the Nebraska Experiment Station as horticulturalist and professor and head of the Horticulture Department. Emerson was a native Nebraskan and alumnus of the University of Nebraska, receiving a B.S. degree in horticulture in 1895. He began a distinguished career as a geneticist and plant breeder, selecting the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) as his model crop and thereby becoming one of the first dry bean researchers in the United States. 

Chester Brown brought great northern beans to Nebraska after a trip to Idaho and planted them on his farm, thinking that with an environment similar to Idaho, dry beans could also be produced successfully in Nebraska. He was correct, and after the establishment of dry bean cultivation in the 1920s, interest and acreage expansion continued as research on this crop also progressed further into the 20th century.

These efforts to improve the crop consistently focused on breeding new and better bean cultivars, particularly with resistance to several prominent diseases.

Early plant pathology research

In the 1930s Robert Goss worked on bacterial blight diseases in western Nebraska. He determined that infection and optimal disease development due to common blight and halo blight required different environmental conditions.  He found that halo blight needed lower temperatures (68-72 degrees Fahrenheit) than common blight for the production of strong symptoms. This was later discovered to be due to a toxin produced by the pathogen, and toxin production decreased when temperatures exceeded 75 degrees F. Common blight was determined to be a warm-weather disease, causing greatest damage at temperatures ranging from 82 to 90 degrees F.

Another early plant pathologist, Max Schuster, conducted research on common blight and bacterial wilt from the 1940s until his retirement. Schuster first identified and characterized other wilt variants that produced orange and purple-blue pigments, and also reported that the tepary bean (P. acutifolius) showed resistance to common blight and thus could potentially be used as a resistant parent for introgressing this trait into dry beans.

Plant breeding continues with Dermot Coyne

UNL’s Shigemi Honma opened the door to future resistant cultivars with the creation of viable progeny after crossing the tepary bean with several great northern cultivars. This process of hybridization resulted in the breeding line, Nebraska No. 1, which was a cross between the tepary bean and Montana No. 5.

In 1961, Coyne and David Nuland noted rogue plants of Nebraska No. 1 showing resistance to common blight in Scotts Bluff County. One of the selections from this field (No. 27) was then used to incorporate blight resistance into new breeding lines.

These lines, originally derived from Coyne and Nuland’s rogue in western Nebraska (designated as GN 1 Sel. No. 27), were utilized across the world as a source of resistance for new great northern cultivars. 

After creating great northern breeding lines with excellent resistance to common blight from GN 1 Sel. No. 27, it was assumed that the resistance was derived from the tepary bean, as indicated from Schuster’s previous research. (Nebraska No. 1 was a resulting hybrid after crossing tepary bean with Montana No. 5.) However, later research by a team of breeders (including Coyne) using molecular mapping techniques determined that the resistance transferred to Nebraska No. 1 actually originated from Montana No. 5 instead of the tepary bean.

To be continued by Part 2 …