Edible Bean School: Breeding varieties for growers and end users


Edible bean breeders have a lot of boxes to check when developing new varieties. From yield and maturity to quality and end use market considerations, breeders need to develop varieties that flourish in the field and also please palates when they appear on dinner plates.

On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Edible Bean School, Hensall Co-op seed and research manager Paul Cornwell looks at what it takes to bring new edible varieties to market; how breeders work to strike a balance between the needs of growers and end users; and new varieties set to emerge from the research pipeline in the near future.

How long does it take to develop and bring a new edible bean to market? Cornwell says that process typically takes eight to 10 years. He notes that growers can expect to see two new Hensall white bean varieties — Blast and Steam — in 2025. These two varieties were crossed in greenhouses at the University of Guelph in 2015 and seed has been growing in Idaho since 2022. Full commercial launch will take place in 2026.

From a grower’s perspective, breeders always need to make yield and maturity a top priority. “Growers will always pick a higher yielding variety that is earlier versus a later maturing variety,” says Cornwell. “Later maturity varieties start to have harvest times that compete with soybeans, and the harvest conditions typically deteriorate as we get later into fall.” (Story continues after the video.)

Cornwell also looks at importance of disease resistance and the time and effort required to develop a bean with a strong defence. “Traits such as disease resistance are linked to genes,” notes Cornwell. “Integrating new traits or genes into an elite variety takes time as the breeders are dealing with plant-to-plant crosses that will take up to five generations to observe.”

If genetic markers have been identified, DNA tests can be used to expedite the process. For example, common bacterial blight and common bean mosaic virus are linked to markers that are well defined. A perennial problem like white mould, however, is more complex as no real resistance has been identified, says Cornwell. When it comes to white mould, breeders look to plant architecture, including upright varieties that promote air movement through the canopy, to help manage the disease.

Unlike some crops where yield is the only thing that matters, Cornwell notes that edible beans have a lot of quality parameters that end-users look for, including seed size and colour  — if the new variety doesn’t fit into the box that is an established market class, it cannot be grown.

“Even if it looks like the existing varieties, cooking also matters. Eventually all edible beans must be cooked, so whether the consumer is cooking them, or they are opening a can, the new variety must cook as expected,” Cornwell stresses.

Tap here for more Edible Bean School videos.


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