Positive progress: Wyo bean producers jumpstart commission, work togetherWritten by Saige Albert
On Dec. 7-8, the Wyoming Dry Bean Commission, which was formed as a result of a bill that passed the Wyoming Legislature in February 2015, held its first meeting, electing officers and beginning to set up procedures for its operation.
“We had a full agenda,” said Hank Uhden, Wyoming Department of Agriculture technical services manager and ex-officio member of the Commission, “but we got through everything.”
“The checkoff provides an assessment on dry beans that is collected at the time beans are sold,” Uhden explained. “Those funds go into an account with the state, and the Commission can utilize the funds for research and marketing.”
Grower Beau Fulton of Powell was elected as chairman, and Jeffrey Chapman of Torrington, a dry bean handler, was elected as vice chair.
During the meeting, the Commission looked at distribution of funds collected.
“The first primary focus is obviously to get themselves going,” Uhden said. “The first year, we really need to see how much is collected, but we really need research.”
In addition, the Commission looked at growing trials, including on-farm trials, and university trials.
The group also looked at their statutes and responsibilities, as well as how they will conduct business moving forward.
At their next meeting, set for Jan. 14 in Casper, the Wyoming Dry Bean Commission will consider routing assessment funds through the Crop Research Foundation of Wyoming, which would enable them to pool resources with other funding sources.
“Even though funding is limited at this time, they will also look to establish a draft budget,” Uhden said. “Ted Craig from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture will also talk about specialty crop grants.”
The Commission has to develop regulations, which Uhden anticipates will be available at the next meeting. They will also discuss draft policies.
“Our meetings are always open to the public, and anyone can contact me if they have questions,” he said.
Aside from Wyoming’s newly established Dry Bean Commission, the dry bean industry in the state is also working cooperatively to conduct research with Idaho and Colorado through the Rocky Mountain High Plains Bean Research Consortium.
“The Consortium was the brainchild of Drs. Mark Brick and Howard Schwartz at Colorado State University,” explained University of Wyoming Seed Certification Manager Mike Moore. “Mark talked to me about this idea years ago. He said that so many of our university programs, especially breeding programs, are very expensive.”
Moore explained that, in addition to breeding, testing varieties for traits is a very expensive process.
“The Colorado group reached out and said, ‘Let’s talk about a cooperative effort – one where a university or state has a breeding program and others have the agronomic programs,’” he said, noting that at that point, the Consortium was formed. “To this point, the concept is working out.”
The Rocky Mountain High Plains Bean Research Consortium is pursuing a unique concept in pooling resources across state lines to conduct research.
“At this point, we have Memorandums of Understanding from each of the three states that are part of Consortium that we are going to share information and resources for the greater good of the whole,” Moore commented.
In addition, Brick has pledged two lines of beans that are ready to be released now to the Consortium.
“Those lines provide a revenue stream,” Moore explained. “Money drives this effort. The Idaho and Colorado Bean Commissions have put money up front, and we hope the Wyoming Bean Commission will also see the opportunity.”
Currently, the Bean Commission is seeking additional funding and pursuing a new USDA grant.
Andi Woolf-Weibye of the Idaho Bean Commission noted, “Last July, we learned about an opportunity through USDA for a specialty crop multi-state program. This is a beautiful fit for us, and we decided it was what we are looking for.”
Woolf-Weibye continued that they are working to develop the pre-proposal for the grant, which is due at the beginning of December.
If funded, the grant would provide money through 2018.
“We just want to make sure we don’t see bean research fade into the distance,” Woolf-Weibye added. “We want to make sure we still have a voice and can get things done.”
Needs of growers
An array of issues face dry bean growers in Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming, including variety and disease challenges.
“One of the big challenges facing bean research is the lack of a public bean breeder,” Woolf-Weibye stated. “No one is doing work to breed new bean varieties.”
New varieties would be beneficial in helping growers achieve the best possible yield and use of resources.
“We don’t have anyone breeding beans,” Moore added. “If we had a variety that works well here, that would be huge.”
Uhden also noted that dry bean growers around Wyoming struggle with finding varieties that are suited to grow in their environments.
“The development of varieties for geographical regions – and even locally – we can have a variety,” he continued. “As an example, on Beau Fulton’s farm, there is a 1,000-foot elevation difference, and the environment is very different. Those are the things they want to look at – developing varieties that will work in growing areas across the state.”
Woolf-Weibye also noted that water supply issues have come up, particularly in recent drought years.
“For us to see the timing and amount of water that is best for beans would be important,” she explained. “We want to be as efficient as we can.”
Another area where research in beans is needed is in bean darkening. Darkening is a phenomenon where beans gradually turn darker in color as they are exposed to sunlight. Darker beans are less appealing to consumers, though they are still safe to eat.
“Slow darkening is a genetic trait in pinto beans, and it is a game changer,” Moore commented, noting the trait would allow beans to be in inventory for longer periods of time while maintaining consumer shelf appeal.
“There are all sorts of agronomic questions,” he said. “We are still using 40-year-old chemistry to control weeds and varieties that aren’t tailored to our environment right now because we don’t have the funds for research.”
Moore added, “All of these efforts coming together are huge for the dry bean industry in Wyoming.”