Regional bean groups ponder joint research program
BOISE — At least 22 dry bean industry leaders from four states will meet in Denver Dec. 18 to discuss the possibility of creating a regional bean research or breeding program.
“I think it’s a great concept and idea that really needs to be talked about,” said Donn Thill, associate dean of research at University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Thill, director of UI’s agricultural research stations, will provide an overview of regional research models during the six-hour meeting.
Representatives of public universities, private industry groups and farm commissions from Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska will attend the meeting, which is being organized by the Idaho Bean Commission.
IBC Administrator Lacey Menasco said a regional program could focus on bean research or breeding or both.
IBC members recently voted to create a $1 million endowment that will fund a bean research program at the University of Idaho.
If a regional bean program materializes, the commission could help fund it through the endowment or it could choose to use other funds, said IBC member Lorell Skogsberg.
Skogsberg said the meeting is exploratory and designed to find out what everybody’s needs are and what resources are available to meet them.
He said the groups attending the meeting have a lot of different programs “and we’re trying to find out if we can consolidate some of those programs or maybe it is a regional bean breeding program that everybody wants and needs.”
The idea of a regional program was first pitched by Mark Brick, a Colorado State University plant geneticist, who discussed the concept with IBC members in May.
None of the players in the regional bean industry is big enough by themselves to fund a major research program, he said, but together they could fund the research needed to ensure the industry remains competitive in the future.
Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska produce 8 million hundredweight of dry beans each year, which is about 23 percent of total U.S. production, he wrote in the October edition of the Colorado Bean News.
But there has been a major shift in production in recent decades from this region to the upper Great Plains, particularly North Dakota, he added, and that has been largely a result of lower production costs.
To make dry beans more competitive in this region and bring some of that production back would require a combination of things, he said, including higher yielding varieties and lower production costs through enhanced pest resistance and improved cultural practices.
But the research expense needed to make these changes is prohibitive, he added, because of reduced federal and state funding and less money from check-off fees due to lower production levels.
“These factors have led to recent discussions on ways to better utilize available resources within our region by sharing responsibilities with adjoining states,” he wrote in the letter co-authored by CSU plant scientist Rick Novak.