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Colorado State geneticist pitches regional bean breeding program

Brick: Regional breeding program could benefit several states


Capital Press

GLENNS FERRY, Idaho -- A Colorado State University professor has asked Idaho Bean Commission members to help create a regional bean breeding program that could benefit several western states.

Mark Brick, president of CSU's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and a plant geneticist, spent two hours discussing the proposal with IBC members recently.

Listening to the discussion by phone was Ted Kisha, a geneticist with the USDA's Western Regional Plant Introduction Station in Pullman, Wash., who offered to assist any bean breeders in the region.

"I'm here to help ... and would love to work with everybody out there," he told members of the IBC during their regular meeting.

The future of public breeding programs doesn't look good except for the major programs, Brick said.

He said creating a region-wide dry bean breeding program could benefit several Western states, including Idaho, Colorado, Washington and Wyoming.

"I think the future of dry bean breeding is quite different from where we're at today," he said. "Looking to the future, I think regionalization is a good idea. I'd like to see a regional program that serves the region."

Brick envisions a regional program that includes publicly funded universities and private partnerships and that serves anyone who supports it. The main goal, he said, would be to develop new varieties with desirable traits that grow well in the West.

The idea was well received by IBC members, who didn't commit but said they would seriously consider it.

"I think it's something that needs to be explored further," said IBC member Doug Carlquist, who grows beans in Eden, Idaho.

IBC members have been considering the idea of creating an endowment of at least $1 million to fund a bean breeding program at the University of Idaho, and they have also discussed spending less money to fund just a research technician position.

The regional proposal adds to that discussion, said IBC member Don Tolmie, production manager for Treasure Valley Seed Co.

"It doesn't eclipse anything but it does add another element to the discussion," he said.

He said the ultimate goal is to develop commercial bean varieties that grow better in Idaho's climate and soil conditions. The state is the nation's top bean seed producer because of a statewide program that certifies Idaho dry bean seed is disease-free.

But Idaho growers are less competitive when it comes to commercial beans because of higher production costs associated with irrigation.

Developing higher-yielding commercial cultivars would enable Idaho farmers to compete with anyone, Tolmie said.

Funding a bean breeding program at UI would likely result in an increase in the assessment fee growers and dealers pay to fund the IBC's efforts and commissioners are looking carefully at every possibility, Tolmie said.

He said IBC members have committed themselves to making a decision during their next meeting June 13.


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