Ont. bean breeder pushes seed sector

RIDGETOWN, Ont. — Seed production could add to Ontario’s 100,000 acres of field beans, says a University of Guelph plant breeder.

Dr. K. Peter Pauls told the Southwest Agricultural Conference Jan. 5 that a growing number of varieties developed by the program have resistance to bacterial blight, anth-racnose or both.

“Our hope in the long term with these two resistance traits is that we can develop a seed industry in Ontario,” he said.

Most of Canada’s field beans are now grown from seed produced in Idaho.

Pauls urged farmers to take ad-vantage of the newer varieties that the U of G has released.

“If you were producing beans in 1985, on average you were getting 1,300 bags per field,” he said.

“Today, if you’re not getting 20 or 22 bags, you’re unhappy.”

A bag is the industry’s term for 100 pounds of beans.

Most of Ontario’s production is exported, which is a positive for Canada’s trade balance, so Pauls sees merit in expanding the industry further.

The common bean, phaseoulus vulgaris, should not be confused with soybeans. Today’s varieties, which include white and coloured types, are derived from 50 wild-growing species originating in the Americas.

New lines must meet basic agronomic parameters to be harvested commercially, including earliness, plant structure, cooking quality and herbicide tolerance.

Pauls said it’s widely recognized that weed pressure in edible beans reduces yields significantly, but chemical weed control measures can also set back plants.

There is no plan at this point to use genetic modification, which could compromise export markets. Instead, the breeding team is looking for natural sources of resistance.

Pauls is also looking at quality improvements.

Some of the coloured bean types, such as cranberries and pintos, darken with time. This doesn’t affect their cooking quality, but maintaining a just-harvested appearance would help with marketing.

Smaller bean sizes might also increase sales, and it’s a long-term objective for the breeding team.

Dry beans take a considerable amount of time to cook because of soaking and boiling, and it’s thought more people might add the highly nutritious food to their regular diet if that could be shortened.

New varieties can take years to develop, especially when breeders work with non-commercial lines to develop new traits.

World production of dry beans exceeds 20 million tonnes a year, Pauls said, and they’re a staple for more than 300 million people.

Canadian production is worth more than $250 million a year.

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