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Guest Opinions

Beans on the Front Burner

Written by Mike Moore

Bean contract prices and acres are expected to be down this year. Unfortunately, commodity prices in general are following that same trend, and a sense of caution and conservation have been the norm at meetings.

A common saying in agriculture is, “Next year will be better.” Based on several efforts in the bean industry, that statement can be made with confidence.

Bean checkoff

After two quarters, the Wyoming Dry Bean Checkoff has generated about $31,000. Those dollars were generated when beans were sold, with a very small portion of the settlement of the beans going to the checkoff. Looking at the last several years' dry bean crop and settlement prices, the checkoff should generate about $150,000 a year – money that can fund research to answer important, current producer questions such as efficient and economical use of fertilizers, weed control and testing new genetics.

In a recent meeting with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, the reduction of fertilizer leaching below the crop-rooting zone was identified as a focus of their efforts and one of the goals of cover crops.

Alternate methods of applying nitrogen, the timing of the application or more detailed fertilizer recommendations based on soil properties and irrigation methods could mean growers spend less on fertilizer while addressing the concerns for fertilizer “loss.”

Speaking of irrigation, new center pivots go in every year, and growing crops under pivots is not the same as growing them on furrow irrigation. Water timing and amounts are different, as are the diseases that can occur with regular wetting of the plant and increased humidity in the crop canopy. Without belaboring the point, there really is no end to current, practical questions that can be addressed with these funds.

Wyoming Bean Commission

The Wyoming Bean Commission is made up of four producers and two handlers. Beau Fulton, a producer near Powell, is the chairman, and Lynn Preator, owner and operator of Preator Bean in Burlington, is vice chair. Pascual Aguilar, a producer in Big Horn County, Wayne Hort, a producer from Goshen County, Jerrod Lind, a Platte County producer, and Jeffery Chapman, a handler in Goshen County, are also members of the Commission.

The group has met twice, with the first meeting consisting mainly of housekeeping items.

The second meeting was held on Jan. 14, and that was where things started to get interesting. Ted Craig with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture shared specialty crop grant opportunities. Bret Hess, director of the University of Wyoming (UW) Ag Experiment Station, noted that University of Wyoming researchers with qualifying research grants could receive matching funds from the Ag Experiment Station.

While $31,000 really isn’t enough to start any research projects this summer, the fact that future research dollars can be “multiplied” through other sources means that funding research can be a partnership between the Bean Commission and others.

The group also heard about work already being done by UW researchers, such as Dr. Andrew Kniss’s work on direct harvest of dry beans, Dr. Bill Stump’s work on fungicides and Dr. Jim Heitholt’s work on variety testing and water needs.

Hank Uhden reported that the Nebraska Bean Commission has reached out to the Commission and will be invited to attend the next Wyoming Bean Commisison meeting to discuss possible future research and ways the two commissions can work on common goals.

Several Wyoming Bean Commissioners also met informally about three weeks later at the Wyoming Crop Improvement Association meeting to further discuss research options for the coming growing season and in the near future. Wyoming Bean Commission meetings are open to the public, and interested parties are encouraged to attend. The Commission’s Facebook page has more information, and a website is under development. It will include important documents, such as checkoff remittance forms, refund request forms, meeting minutes and upcoming meeting announcements.

Rocky Mountain Regional Dry Bean Consortium

The Rocky Mountain Regional Dry Bean Consortium (RMRDBC) has been working hard for two and a half years, exploring the possibility of the university-based agricultural experiment stations, bean commissions and bean industries of multiple states to cooperatively use financial and staff resources to further the dry bean industry.

Plant breeding is expensive, especially so when the latest technology is used, and having staff and equipment in each state to have a full-blown breeding, testing, fertility, pathology and agronomy research program in several neighboring states was becoming impossible to fund. Over time, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming have begun developing relationships to the point that formal documents are being developed that will allow the RMRDBC, more commonly known as the Bean Consortium, to develop and own bean varieties and apply for research grants.

The Bean Consortium has already applied for a multistate grant and, if successful, would have funding to address the needs sated above. This may not seem like a big deal, but it really is as universities have not, in the past, worked together at this level.

Consider a breeding program that has the equipment that can identify a DNA segment that contains an important trait, such as slow fertilizer use efficiency. They can test the seeds generated from crosses and only test the varieties known to have the trait, reducing the number of lines that are grown for further testing by over 75 percent. Then, the “winning” varieties can be shared with neighboring states, which would subject those lines for further testing for agronomic, disease, yield and end use quality. The end result will logically be to release varieties that do well in many environments or to release varieties that do well in specific locations that would otherwise be lost for lack of testing in those environments.

Crop Research Foundation of Wyoming

Crop Research Foundation of Wyoming (CRFW) has been in existence for several years. It is the entity behind the release of Cowboy winter wheat, which is quickly becoming one of the main varieties planted in southeast Wyoming.

CRFW is not a breeding program, but they do fund variety testing. In the case of Cowboy, which was developed by Colorado State University wheat breeder Scott Haley, it would not have been released by Colorado State University (CSU) based on testing in Colorado, but it did exceptionally well in the Wyoming environment, and CRFW worked with CSU via a release agreement to give Wyoming growers access to Cowboy. The release agreement would not have happened without the CRFW. The agreement generates funds for the CRFW and the CSU breeding program, allowing the former to continue testing lines from other breeding programs in the Wyoming environment and funds to the breeding program so they can continue their efforts.

A cooperative release with a solid stem winter wheat is currently in the mill for a Montana line, so this is no flash in the pan. CRFW has worked entirely on wheat so far, but they recently met with the Wyoming Bean Commission and the Bean Consortium in recognition that what worked with one crop, can work with beans.

Take-home message

Similar to being in a dust devil with several entities all interacting and working toward similar and common goals, it is hard to keep track of who is doing what and why. To boil it down to the simplest form, there are several entities working together to do what will be cutting edge work in dry beans.

I am grateful to the people who were humble enough to reach out to others and work together, such as the ag experiment stations, bean commissions and industry leaders from the Bean Consortium partners. These are entities that have been competing for many years and are now partnering for the good of the industry.

Specific to Wyoming, I am grateful to the six people who are donating their time and talents to the fledgling Wyoming Bean Commission. I am grateful to CRFW that has reached out to the Bean Commission, showing them that there is a vehicle for releasing varieties in Wyoming not only to the benefit of current growers but also by generating funds for future work.

I appreciate the work UW researchers are currently doing to support the bean industry and look forward to much, much more. Beans are definitely on the front burner, and at a full rolling boil. I expect some awesome things to come from these efforts.