Idaho bean industry mulls funding bean breeder position
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho dry bean growers are mulling the possibility of helping fund a bean breeder position at the University of Idaho with the goal of developing a commercial pinto cultivar that would perform better in Idaho's climate and soil conditions.
Because of a unique statewide quality control program that certifies Idaho dry bean seed as disease-free, Idaho is the nation's top bean seed producer.
However, the state is not as competitive with Minnesota, North Dakota and some other Midwestern states when it comes to commercial bean varieties because of higher input costs, including irrigation, Idaho Bean Commission board member Don Tolmie said.
If a bean breeder could develop a pinto variety that yields 50-60 hundredweight (cwt.) per acre in Idaho, that would be a significant improvement over the current 30-35 cwt. which is typical for pintos grown in Idaho, he said.
"If we double that, we can become very competitive with anybody in the world ... and commercial beans become a very viable crop in the state of Idaho," said Tolmie, production manager for Treasure Valley Seed Co.
If a new pinto variety that adds even 15 cwt. more to yields in Idaho fields could be developed, "That would be a very significant increase," said IBC board member Leonard Andrew, a Caldwell farmer. "Something like that would put us in the commercial marketplace because we could afford to compete with the guys in (Minnesota and North Dakota) and the Midwest."
"The possibility of bringing back a bean breeder to the University of Idaho is something we're really looking hard at," he adds.
UI hasn't filled its vacant bean breeder position because of budget constraints. If a bean breeder with the ability to develop that type of cultivar is going to be brought to Idaho, it's going to be up to industry to help fund the position, Tolmie said.
That would inevitably mean an increase in the assessment that growers and dealers pay to fund the IBC's research, marketing, education and promotion efforts, he said.
Idaho's dry bean assessment, which is 8 cents per cwt. for growers and 4 cents per cwt. for dealers, hasn't been raised since 1961. The checkoff fee brought in $183,000 to the IBC last year and is forecast to bring in $220,000 this fiscal year.
No decision to fund the position will be made unless all stakeholders are on board, Tolmie said.
"This will take an effort from the legislature, bean commission, Farm Bureau, growers and dealers," he said. "We have to have everybody on board here if this is where we're going to take this."
If the decision is made to go that route, Tolmie said, Idaho would maintain its focus on producing certified bean seed.
"We can't take our eye off the ball. We will remain the top bean seed-producing state," he said. "But we also have an obligation to provide that opportunity to growers who might want to grow commercial varieties."