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Researchers release easier-to-harvest pinto beans

Mark Brick knows a lot about architecture -- in plants, that is, not buildings. Brick, professor of plant breeding and genetics at Colorado State University, led a research team that developed and released a variety of pinto beans that's easier t...

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Mark Brick, professor of plant breeding and genetics at Colorado State University. Photo submitted by Mark Brick.

Mark Brick knows a lot about architecture - in plants, that is, not buildings.

Brick, professor of plant breeding and genetics at Colorado State University, led a research team that developed and released a variety of pinto beans that’s easier to harvest than traditional pinto beans.

The variety, known as Long’s Peak and named after a Colorado mountain that Brick can see from his front yard, features what scientists call “upright architecture” rather than the “prostrate” architecture traditionally found in pintos. In the latter, plants spread out horizontally, keeping pods closer to the ground and making them harder to harvest. With upright architecture, pods are higher and easier for combines to reach.

Long’s Peak has received attention recently as part of efforts to promote the United Nations’ designation of 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. Dry beans are one type of pulses.

Brick stresses that Long’s Peak isn’t unique. A number of plant breeders in both the public and private sectors also have introduced pinto varieties with upright architecture, he says.

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“I don’t want to mislead anybody into thinking this is one of a kind,” he says.

He also stresses other plant breeders contributed to Long’s Peak development, pointing to scientists at Michigan State University, North Dakota State University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It was team effort,” he says. “It took a long time. Long’s Peak is a good example of teamwork. It shows what can happen when people share their germ plasm.”

Once, most pinto beans featured prostrate architecture. But Brick and other plant breeders have been working for years to cross bean varieties featuring large seeds and prostrate architecture with varieties featuring small seeds and upright architecture.

Long’s Peak and other varieties developed by plant breeders offer upright architecture and large seeds, “the best of both worlds,” Brick says.

Yields are priority

There are many kinds of edible beans; pintos, which often are used in Mexican dishes such as refried beans, are the most popular. North Dakota often leads the nation in both pinto and total dry bean production, and Minnesota usually ranks near the top in both categories, too. But edible bean growers in the area frequently mention harvest difficulties as a major challenge.

Brick, again stressing that he doesn’t want publicity surrounding Long’s Peak to mislead anyone, says the variety isn’t particularly well suited to North Dakota’s climate.

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Joe Mauch, a Hankinson, N.D., dry bean grower and president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, a cooperative of North Dakota and Minnesota farmers that bills itself as “North America’s largest supplier of dry beans,” says he’s not familiar with Long’s Peak and can’t comment specifically on it.

In general, though, dry bean growers are interested in any variety that make their crop easier to harvest, though “yields are the most important thing we consider,” Mauch says.

Long’s Peak offers high yield potential, in addition to being easier to harvest than varieties with prostrate architecture,  Brick says.

In any case, Brick says he’s pleased International Year of Pulses is generating more attention on dry beans and research into new varieties.

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Mark Brick, professor of plant breeding and genetics at Colorado State University. Photo submitted by Mark Brick.

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