By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho Bean Commission members have decided to consider creating a regional bean breeding program that focuses on developing improved varieties.
The program would involve partnerships with public and private entities in other western states, and the main goal would be to develop new dry bean varieties that achieve higher yields and grow well in the West.
The idea was pitched to IBC commissioners during their regular meeting in May by Colorado State University Plant Geneticist Mark Brick, president of CSU's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.
Commissioners didn't have enough information about the program to make a firm decision during their June 13 meeting, said IBC Chairman Lorell Skogsberg.
"But we are interested in that type of relationship," he said. "We aren't big enough on our own to do something like this, but we're hoping we might be able to get something done on a regional basis."
IBC members have been mulling the idea of creating an endowment to fund a bean breeding program at the University of Idaho. That effort would cost up to $2 million and result in an increase in the assessment paid by growers and dealers.
"That could still happen but it probably would happen in the form of a multi-state breeding program," said IBC Administrator Lacey Menasco.
Even if the IBC joins a multi-state effort, it would still need to fund trial plots and possibly a technician position at UI, said IBC Commissioner Bill Bitzenburg.
"If I had to guess, I would say we will end up with some kind of hybrid," he said. "We're never going to lose our partnership with the University of Idaho but how it's exactly shaped, I can't tell you right now."
Bitzenburg said breeding programs are expensive and partnering with other universities and private entities is a much better option financially.
"Trying to maintain a bean breeding program with just our resources looked like folly to me," he said. "I don't think we can raise enough money to pay for a bean breeder on our own. This multi-state platform might be a better option."
IBC members have also looked at other options, including partnering with private researchers or other universities or just funding a single research technician position at UI.
"All those options are still on the table," Menasco said. "But we have to take a step back and look at it from the perspective of a multi-state program."
Commissioners' main interest is developing improved bean varieties, which are critical to the industry and typically take about 12 years before they are released, said IBC Commissioner Dana Rasmussen.
"I think we could do better than that by working together," he said. "If we don't get new varieties, we are going to be left behind and we won't have anything left to offer in Idaho."
Bitzenburg is planting a bean variety developed in the 1980s.
"We need some new varieties. There have to be improvements," he said.