Dry beans have been grown commercially in Colorado for more than 100 years. The primary market class has always been the pinto bean, usually comprising more than 90% of the total crop. Other market classes have been produced, including small read, Anasazi, pink, light red kidney, small white and others. Today light red kidney is the second largest market class, comprising 5 to 15% of total production.
Pinto beans have been an important crop in Colorado agriculture since production statistics were first compiled in 1909. At that time, 5,00 acres were planted that had an average yield of 580 Ib/A at a price of $3.60/cwt. Pinto bean production increased rapidly thereafter. In 1914, 20,000 acres were planted and by 1917 production increased to 243,000 acres, of which only 40,000 acres were under irrigation. Annual production in Colorado increased from 180,000 cwt in 1914 to 900,000 cwt in 1917. The industry enjoyed steady growth throughout the 20s and 30s, and saw a record high in 1943 with 460,000 harvested acres. Average yield at that time was 535 Ib/A at $5.70/cwt. From 1970 to mid 1990’s, acreage fluctuated between 120,000 to 225,000 acres annually, and average yields steadily increased to more than 1800 Ib/A. Prices during this period varied from $8.60 to $31.20/cwt. Acreage since the mid 1990s has steadily declined due to low prices. In 2003, the area planted to bean was the lowest since the mid 1910s at 69,000 acres. Prices currently vary between $14 to to 18/cwt. Given that the current cost of production is estimated at $15/cwt, it is clear that the profit margin for the bean crop is minimal and lower prices have reduced the number of acres planted to historic laws.
Alvin Kezer and Walter Sackett were among the first scientists in Colorado to work with dry beans. In 1918, they reported on dry bean production practices in Colorado during the early 20th century in publication “Beans in Colorado and Their Diseases”. Early bean varieties were derived from land races that were grown by Native Americans or imported from other regions, including Mexico. The market class that we recognize today as pinto bean was known by several names during the early years of cultivation including: Mexican, Mexican bean, Mexican bean, Mexican tick bean, Colorado bean, army bean, and others. The name pinto was well established by the mid-20th century, and the pinto is now recognized market class according to USDA Agricultural Marketing Standards.
Dry bean breeding activities in Colorado during the early 20th century were primarily focused on single-plant selections from land races and varieties that were brought into Colorado. Kezer and Sackett stated that, “…much progress can be made from selection with pinto beans as is sometimes done with corn in the Midwest”. Suggested selection criteria included high individual plant yield, early maturity, uniform ripening of pods, and freedom from disease. The selections were planted in rows, and the highest-yielding rows that had desirable agronomic characteristics were saved for future planting sotck. Kezer and Sackett stated that “Preliminary work with bean selection shows that it is easily possible to increase the yield 25% by selection alone”. Undoubtedly, these early selections produced both higher yield and better disease resistance that in early varieties.
Pinto beans were also very important in the San Juan Basin of south central Colorado during the early 20th centuary. Early varieties were also derived from land races imported from other regions, especially the highlands of Mexico. During the 1930’s, pinto bean varieties such as San Juan showed severe symptoms of bean common mosaic virus (BCMV) infection. Dwight Koonce, who worked on beans for Colorado A&M at Hesperus, CO, cooperated with a local bean grower Homer Norton to identify and select disease-free plants in the field. Their work led to the release of the variety “San Juan Select” , a virus-resistant variety, the most widely grown pinto in the region until the early 1980’s, when the pinto variety “Cahone” was released by CSU. Today, a small amount of acreage is still planted to San Juan Select in the San Juan Basin.
Dry Bean Breeding Project of Colorado State University
The first formal breeding program at CSU was first proposed in 1948 by Donald Wood. Don was hired as an Assistant Professor in 1947 to assist Dr. Warren (Red) Leonard with the barley breeding, and to help teach an undergraduate genetics course in the Department. In a draft proposal titled “A Plant Breeding Program for the Improvement of Pinto Beans in Colorado”, Wood stated that “The objectives of the bean improvement program should be to: 1) Further study the bacterial blight organism, 2) Develop and maintain a Colorado pinto bean seed industry, 3) Breed for resistance to the rust pathogen, 4) Study improved cultural practices, and 5) Breed for improved resistance to bean common mosaic virus and curly top (an aphid transmitted virus disease)”.
Don Wood recalled his first years at Colorado A&M as follows:
“My appointment as Assistant Agronomist in Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station began January 1, 1947. I can still remember the beautiful snow that fell during the preceding Christmas holiday as contrasted to the wind-driven blizzards of my Kansas experience. I was assigned to assist Warren H. Leonard in his Genetics classes, develop an MS thesis problem with Ralph Weihing, teach Crops Laboratory, and audit the other crops courses being taught. Two other graduate students joined the Department soon after I came, Ronald Ensign and Robert Osler. We were all pursuing MS degrees. I was under Dr. Leonard’s tutelage, Osler was “Scotty” Robertson’s student, and Ron Ensign also worked under Robertson on barley”.
In 1946, a severe rust epidemic occurred in eastern Colorado. At that time, Dr. William (Bill) Zaumeyer, a USDA scientist working on beans at the Potato Research Station in Greeley, Colorado, studied the rust pathogen and conducted a breeding program to improve garden and pinto beans for the western US. Dr. Zaumeyer spent summer months in Greeley conducting field plots and winter months at Beltsville, MD conducting laboratory and greenhouse research. He made crosses during the winter in Beltsville, MD and planted the progeny in Greeley for evaluation and selection. Dr. Zaumeyer planted about three acres of garden beans and once acre of pinto beans in his search to find new sources of resistant genes and improved varieties. After the epidemic, Dr. Zaumeyer requested funding from the Colorado State Legislature to work on control mechanisms for rust and incorporation of rust resistant genes and incorporation of rust resistance into pinto bean. In 1947, Bill Zaumeyer found the perfect stage of rust and convinced the Colorado State Legislature to provide $10,000 to fund bean research. From these funds, research on control methods using sulfur and variety testing were initiated. The following years, economic damage to the bean crop due to bean rust was significantly reduced due to timely applications of sulfur at the first sign of rust.
Graduate Research Assistant Ron Ensign also conducted a variety testing program that included new lines developed at the University of Idaho and resistant strains from Zaumeyer’s program. According to Don Wood, “Bean varieties from Idaho had a growth havit that was attractive to the growers and although suspectible to rust, they soon became the choice of farmers in the eastern irrigated countries”. Zaumeyer and his assistant, H. Rex Thomas, worked hard to get an agronomic type equal to the Idaho varieties with rust resistance. During the latter part of the 1940’s, Bill Zaumeyer wanted to reduce his travel to Greeley in the summer, so he worked out an agreement with Don Wood to have the USDA package seed of pinto breeding lines and mail them to the Colorado for planting, evaluation, and selection. Eventually, Don Wood planted the entire Zaumeyer nursery. From these efforts the variety “Scout” was released; however Scout was not widely grown because it did not have the agronomic desirability that was available in the pinto varieties released from the University of Idaho, namely UI 71, UI 78 and UI 111.
In 1950, Don Wood pursued a PhD at the University of Wisconsin. Don recalled the day he left for Wisconsin to start his studies; “As I was driving out of town, I heard about the invasion of South Korea by North Korea on the radio. Because I had served in the Marine Crops during WWII, I thought that I may as well turn around and return home because I would be recalled to duty. However, I kept on driving and the recall never occurred.” At the UW, Don studied corn genetics and the genetic mechanism involved in variegated seed color. In 1956, he completed the PhD degree and returned to CSU.
Dry Bean Breeding Project of Colorado State University
Don Immediately continued his involvement and cooperation with the USDA on dry bean breeding. In 1957, Dr. Doug Burke was hired as a permanent breeder for the USDA to work at Greeley. However, shortly thereafter, Dr. Burke was transferred by the USDA to Prosser, WA, and the USDA no longer sent breeding material to Colorado. Consequently, Dr. Wood initiated a crossing program with continued emphasis on breeding for improved resistance from other Phaseolus species into pinto beans for disease resistance, especially common bacterial blight resistance. Because, hybrids among species are difficult to obtain, he was among the first to attempt embryo rescue techniques to rescue fertile F1 hybrids. Unfortunately fertile hybrids were never recovered.
In 1950, Don Wood pursued a PhD at the University of Wisconsin. Don recalled the day he left for Wisconsin to start his studies; “As I was driving out of town, I heard about the invasion of South Korea by North Korea on the radio. Because I had served in the Marine Crops during WWII, I thought that I may as well turn around and return home because I would be recalled to duty. However, I kept on driving and the recalled never occurred.” At the UW, Don studied corn genetics and the genetic mechanism involved in variegated seed color. In 1956, he completed the PhD degree and returned to CSU.
With the assistance of Mr. Ballarin, the breeding program became computerized and expanded the number of crosses made each year and subsequently the size of the greenhouse and field nurseries. The size of the field nursery went from approximately five acres in the early 1980s top more than twelve acres by 1989. Mr. Ballarin left the University to pursue other career goals in 1989, when Mr. J. Barry Ogg was hired to replace him. Barry continued upgrading computer utilization on the project and by the early 1990’s, the project replaced the use of mainframe computers with desktop computers to keep all records. With Barry’s assistance, the project doubled the number of crosses made each year and included field nurseries at three research stations with more than 18 acres of breeding nurseries at ARDEC in Fort Collins. Ogg continues his work on the project today.
Dr. Wood released three important pinto varieties that were widely grown under irrigation in the High Plains and western US. The varieties included, “Ouray” in 1975, the first upright growth habit pinto bean; “Olathe” in 1981, the first rust resistant pinto variety; and “Bill Z” in 1985, the most widely grown pinto in the US throughout the 80s and early 90s. These varieties replaced previous pinto varieties that were susceptible to rust and provided a growers with higher yield potential.
The dryland pinto breeding program in Southwestern Colorado began at Arboles, Colorado during the mid 1950’s. The program continues today at Southwestern Colorado Research Station at Yellow Jacket, CO. This program was initiated in connection with the Dolores River Project to improve bean yields in the San Juan Basin in cooperation with Howard Morre and Adrian Fisher at the research station in Ariola. Crosses for the breeding program were made by Don Wood at Fort Collins, and progeny were evaluated in southwestern Colorado under non-irrigated field conditions. The project released two important varieties including “Cahone” in 1982 and “Fisher” in 1995. Cahone was the first pinto variety to become accepted in San Juan Basin since San Juan select was released in the 1940s. Today, these varieties encompass essentially 100% if the pinto bean acreage in San Juan Basin.
In 1986, Dr. Wood retired as the leader of the Dry Bean Breeding Project at CSU and Dr. Mark Brick became the project leader. Mark had experience breeding forage crops, particularly alfalfa, and at the time of appointment he served as the Manager of the Colorado Seed Growers Association. The Dry Bean Breeding Program continued emphasis on the improvement of pinto bean varieties that possessed multiple pest resistance for the High Plains and western US. The program initiated crosses for improved varieties in market classes other than pinto bean, specifically black and great-northern beans in 1990. To date, the program released Fisher in 1995, “Montrose” in 1999, “Shiny Crow” in 2000 and “Grand Mesa” in 2001. These varieties represent unique varieties for the high yield potential and possessed a new gene for resistance to the rust pathogen. Shiny Crow was the first black bean variety released in the US that possessed a shiny seed coat rather than the traditional opaque (dull) seed coat luster. The shiny seed coat is a desirable characteristic for dry packaged black beans. Grand Mesa is semi-upright multiple pest-resistant pinto bean that possesses tolerance to rust, bean common mosaic virus, and white mold pathogen, a first in the pinto market class.
A major influence on Dry Bean Breeding Program in the 1990s and later was the organization of the dry bean industry to provide funding for research program. In 1986, certified seed producers in western Colorado through the Colorado Seed Growers Association agreed to provide a voluntary contribution to the bean research programs at CSU based on certified seed tag sales. These funds enabled the breeding and plant pathology programs to enhance breeding efforts, especially for greenhouse and field screening efforts to improve and broaden resistance to rust and other diseases. Further, in 1991, the Colorado Dry Bean Administrative Committee formed, based upon a statewide commodity, “check-off” on the commercial sale of dry beans. The money was earmarked for use to support dry bean marketing and research in Colorado. These funds enabled the dry bean programs at CSU to improve research efforts in breeding, variety testing, pathology, and Integrated Pest Management. The funds were especially useful for replacing outdated equipment and hiring students to assist with research efforts.
In 2004, the dry bean research programs at CSU have activities in breeding, variety testing, pathology, seed production, and entomology that take place on campus and at three Agricultural Research Centers throughout Colorado. The emphasis includes breeding, and research to solve environmental, pest, and cultural constraints to production. Scientists cooperating on the dry bean programs today include Drs. Mark A. Brick (breeder) and Jerry Johnson (variety testing), Department of Soil and Crop Sciences; Drs. Howard Schwartz (plant pathology), Scott Nissen (weed science) and Frank Peairs (entomology), Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management; Dr. Calvin Pearson and Fred Judson, Western Colorado Research Center at Fruita; Mark Stack, Southwestern Colorado Research Center, Yellow Jacket; and Dr. Abdel Berrada, Arkansas Valley Research Center, Rocky Ford. Colorado dry bean producers benefit significantly from one of the most diverse and productive dry bean research programs in the US today.
Very recently the Dry Bean Breeding Project initiated research on the chemical and nutritional composition of dry bean cultivars. Dr. Henry Thompson of the CSU Cancer Prevention Laboratory is collaborating with Dr. Brick to identify bean cultivars and market classes that have maximal health benefits. The research includes laboratory and pre-clinical trials regarding the ability of beans in the diet to influence the development of cancer, diabete4s, and other diseases. Future work will focus on the Identification of the genetic control