New navy bean designed for Sask. fields

University of Saskatchewan dry bean and lentil breeder Kirsten Bett says this new navy bean stands taller and with higher pods, similar to CDC Blackstrap black beans. | Debra Marshall photo

A navy bean that offers better yield, shorter season, and higher pod height is coming on stream just in time for farmers to take advantage of a push to increase irrigated acres in Saskatchewan.

Ken McDougall said the bean should appeal to farmers that have been reluctant to grow dry beans due to the challenges involved at harvest. He said navy and black beans can be harvested with conventional equipment. By contrast, pinto beans hug the ground and require a pickup header on the combine and the expectation that a quarter of the crop can be lost to pod shatter.

“These navy beans have a more upright stature and the beans, the pods are more like a lentil at the middle of the plant rather than at the bottom of the plant, which makes it attractive to farmers.”

McDougall is farm manager at McDougall Acres near Moose Jaw. The pedigreed seed producer bought the marketing rights to the new bean, developed by Kirsten Bett at the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre.

McDougall said “CDC Whitetrack” has been suggested as a name, after a tradition of naming navy bean varieties after local ski hills. Bett has submitted the name to the Variety Registration Office at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but it has not yet been approved.

“So … it is currently called the oh-so-lyrical ‘4910CBB-2’,” she wrote in an email interview.

Fifteen kilograms of Bett’s breeder seed went into the ground at McDougall Acres this year, with hopes it will yield about 400 kilograms of foundation seed to further multiply in 2022. McDougall said they will reach out to other seed growers at that point to produce enough seed in 2023 so select production farmers can start to grow it under contract.

“In 2024, we would have certified seed and that’s when we’d hopefully have 5,000 acres contracted,” he said.

The new bean option coincides with the rollout of the Saskatchewan government’s 10-year, $4 billion plan to increase the amount of irrigable acreage in the province. Announced in July 2020, the initiative aims to irrigate more than half a million acres with water from Lake Diefenbaker, more than doubling the current area.

“This is somewhat in anticipation of new irrigation expansion, because there’s going to be farmers, new bean growers looking for beans that aren’t necessarily so risky or complex to grow, the navies and the blacks,” McDougall said. “But in this case, the navy’s going to be a little simpler in the sense it’s easier to grow. It’s more like a lentil than a normal dry bean.”

Ease of cultivation and harvest have been Bett’s goals for development of this navy bean.

“It is a bit like CDC Blackstrap — taller and more upright than others and holds its pods fairly high, meaning you can probably direct harvest it rather than having to undercut like they typically do for beans like pintos,” she wrote. “One of my main objectives in the program is to develop varieties that keep the pods high so we can get away from fancy equipment like undercutters and avoid extra tillage steps while we are at it.”

The new variety is the first to come out of the CDC since Bett took over the dry bean breeding program in the early 2000s. It was developed from a cross made in 2012.

“Navy beans are notoriously low yielding compared to black beans so I have not been focusing on them as much as the blacks,” she said.

The new navy bean yields better than any other of the bean varieties for Saskatchewan, but it still doesn’t out-yield CDC Blackstrap. It also takes a bit longer to grow than this black bean variety.

“It is a little later than I would like so we won’t see it up in Nipawin with CDC Blackstrap, but down in Riverhurst and south it is fine.”

It also has other attractive disease resistance features. This includes tolerance to common bacterial blight and both races of anthracnose that breeders test for on the Prairies.

“This makes seed production in Saskatchewan more tractable as we do not have to worry as much about that seed-borne disease being transmitted from year to year,” Bett said.

McDougall said they have high hopes for the new navy bean as a made-in-Saskatchewan option.

“We plan to build a program with this bean,” he said. “We think it’s the perfect complement for Saskatchewan producers, a brand-new navy that looks like, over the past couple of years, according to the trials, to be very attractive. So we’re quite excited about it.”

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