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Growers stand by upright beans
September 24, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Courtesy Photo - A traditional vining variety of dry edible beans (left) grows next to a new stand-up variety that continues to be developed for growing in this area.

As is the case with all cash crops in the Valley, dry edible bean breeders continue to search for better varieties that will produce higher yields and minimize harvest loss, while reducing cost to the producers.

“For about 10 years we’ve been working on a variety that stands more upright,” said Dan Smith, Chief Agronomist at Kelley Bean Company. “We’re further along with the Pintos and there are currently several strains that stand up well for direct harvest. We’ve also made some big strides with Great Northerns and have four of five strains, but we’re still a few years behind where we are with the Pintos.”

The new strains not only have an upright structure, but also set their pods higher on the plant. That allows for fewer losses at harvest time as fewer pods are on the ground. The stand-up varieties of Great Northerns currently in production are standing up and yielding well.
“They will fall over a bit when they produce a heavy yield,” Smith said. “In the next couple of years we’ll have Great Northerns with stem strength and higher pods. We’re getting closer to where we need to be.”

The advantage of upright beans is growers no longer need to get up at 4 a.m. to cut beans in the dark and stack them in windrows. It also requires fewer trips across the field.

Smith said that producers that still conventionally cut and combine their beans are growing stand-up varieties because of the good yield potential in the new varieties and because they stay off the ground, they’re less susceptible to plant diseases like white mold, which is common in beans.

“About half of our production is from upright bean varieties,” Smith said. “Growers using pivot irrigation are especially going to those varieties because it only takes one pass to cut the beans. It may take a few more years to develop varieties that grow well for producers using flood irrigation.”

Once the beans have been cut and piled in windrows, they’re susceptible to rain and wind until they dry out, which takes about a week to 10 days. Once the beans have dried, the grower must make another pass through the field to combine the crop.

Smith said that within the next 10 years, more than 75 percent of the crop will probably be stand-up varieties that can be direct harvested.

Jim Schild, Extension Educator and Associate Director of the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, said stand-up varieties might not be the best choice for all fields. “The fit is the best where you have flat fields and pivot irrigation,” he said. “There’s more harvest loss in field on hillsides or rolling ground. It’s not as easy to direct harvest under those conditions.”
Schild predicted the area will see a mix of both traditionally harvested with two passes through the fields, and direct harvest that only requires one pass. Although direct harvest is relatively new to this area, the practice is being used extensively in areas such as North Dakota.

Schild added that most dry bean varieties in this area have about a 90-day maturity period. And while there are advantages to stand-up varieties, maturity is uneven in beans, which could require a desiccant to kill the plants and make the field more uniform for direct harvest.

Plus, harvest loss is still higher in stand-up varieties than traditionally harvested beans. “Traditionally grown beans will lose about a bushel on the yield,” Schild said. “Some direct harvesters are approaching that, but others are losing six or seven percent.”
He added that some of the larger growers are more interested in stand-up varieties, but it all depends on the individual grower’s comfort level. Eventually, the industry wants to get to the point where crop loss in both harvesting methods are comparable, with the difference being less time to harvest and less equipment usage.

“Ultimately, we’re looking for a dry bean variety that has good yields, even maturity across different soil types, and carries the pods higher in the plant,” Schild said.
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