Dry Bean Intrigue - PulsePoint
December 17, 2018
New varieties are helping to expand this crop’s appeal
by Kim Waalderbos
Dry beans have been predominantly grown in the irrigated areas near Lake Diefenbaker, with limited acres of dryland production in Saskatchewan.
Now, improved and more readily available varieties may make dry beans a more attractive crop for growers to include in rotations, says Laurie Friesen, Seed Program and Research Project Manager for Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG).
Dry beans comprised 10,000 seeded acres in 2017 across Saskatchewan, up from 7,000 in 2016, according to the Government of Saskatchewan’s 2017 Specialty Crop Report. The most popular dry beans grown are pinto beans, followed by navy, black, and small red beans.
The black bean variety CDC Blackstrap has really helped spark interest with growers, says Friesen. Its early maturity and higher pod clearance make it a good fit for both dryland and irrigation production.
“CDC Blackstrap just took off this year,” says Dr. Kirstin Bett, Plant Breeder and Professor at the Crop Development Centre with the University of Saskatchewan. “It was not as difficult to produce as people thought,” she adds. The upright structure enabled growers to swath or combine the beans without specialized equipment, and effectively cut plants off at the stems without leaving pods behind in the field.
Jeff Ewen, a Riverhurst farmer and agronomist, hosted an irrigated demonstration plot of CDC Blackstrap on his family farm, E3 Ag Ventures, this year. The Ewen family has been growing dry beans on their 11,000-acre farm for a decade, since they first acquired irrigated
land along Lake Diefenbaker. This year, 800 irrigated acres represented their dry bean crop.
Ewen had seen the CDC Blackstrap beans grown in Dr. Bett’s research trials on narrow rows and was encouraged enough to try them. “Disease is one of the worst things with dry beans,” says Ewen. “I expected when they were packed in tighter row spacings that there would be more disease issues, but it was not the case.”
The Ewen family air seeded the black beans at 10.5-inch row spacings in their on-farm demonstration. “The air seeder damaged seed, resulting in a reduced plant population, and ultimately reduced yield,” says Ewen, yet “the economics were very close in comparison to our more traditionally grown black beans on 22-inch rows because we made a lot less passes and required no specialized equipment for seeding and harvesting.”
Dr. Bett is focusing her research work on breeding the best narrow-row, straightcut varieties of dry beans that fit the Saskatchewan climate. Most of her trials are on dryland production because, “if they do well on dryland, they will do well under irrigation,” she says. With CDC Blackstrap now available, Dr. Bett is aiming to get other market classes with strong variety choices. Next year, CDC Ray, a Flor de Junio is expected to be available for commercial production. “It looks like another variety to get excited about,” she says. “It has a strange growth habit that lends well to straight cutting, too.”
The biggest obstacle to expanding dry bean acres in Saskatchewan has been finding varieties that fit a 90 to 105-day maturity range. “Dry beans are an extremely sensitive crop to frost,” says Ewen. “And they are heat loving, like soybeans.” Dr. Bett has focused on breeding common bean with tepary bean for improved traits, which includes better frost tolerance. This has helped with the increase in dry bean acres in Saskatchewan.
Friesen says the two biggest disease challenges with dry beans are white mould and common bacterial blight. To manage disease, both Friesen and Ewen stress the importance of crop rotation. “The key to getting the result you want starts with your rotation,” Ewen says, adding he rotates cereals, dry beans, flax, and canola. “The biggest danger to dry bean expansion is fitting them around the canola rotation, because of shared diseases in the two crops,” he says. Dr. Bett is also breeding varieties for tolerance to common bacterial blight. So far CDC Blackstrap and CDC WM2 both have tolerance.
“There might be a few growing pains, but as Saskatchewan growers get more familiar with dry beans, they have good potential to be part of the Saskatchewan rotation,” Friesen says.