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Heirloom dry beans suitable for small-scale organic production

In trials of 17 heirloom beans varieties, 4 cultivars recommended for burgeoning niche market in Minnesota

American Society for Horticultural Science

ST. PAUL, MN - Consumer demand for organic heirloom dry beans is on the rise. According to the authors of a new study, the number of acres of land used for certified organic dry bean production has increased significantly in recent years, and a similar trend is occurring across the United States. In a study published in the January 2016 issue of HortScience, researchers Hannah Swegarden, Craig Sheaffer, and Thomas Michaels offer essential recommendations to small-scale vegetable growers about heirloom dry bean cultivar choices for distribution to local markets in Minnesota and the Midwest.

Lead author of the study Hannah Swegarden said that there is a demand among consumers and restaurants for locally produced, organic dry beans. "In particular, there is an expressed demand for heirloom cultivars with identifiable traits, such as cooking quality, flavor, and interesting seedcoats." Looking to inform organic producers interested in meeting consumer demand, the researchers studied seeds of 17 heirloom dry bean cultivars. They conducted experiments over 2 years to determine yield and yield stability of the bean cultivars. Experimental plots of the beans were established at four locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin: two of the plots were United States Department of Agriculture-certified organic, and two had been managed according to the USDA guidelines for more than 10 years before the experiment. Three commercial market-class bean cultivars were used as controls in the trials.

Results of the field trials showed that the average yield of the commercial bean cultivars was 44% greater than average yield of heirloom cultivars. Among the heirloom varieties, 'Lina Sisco's Bird Egg' and 'Peregion' showed relatively high yields; the authors said these cultivars would be interesting to explore further. "Heirloom cultivars, in particular 'Jacob's Cattle Gold', 'Lina Sisco's Bird Egg', 'Peregion', and 'Tiger's Eye', are suitable for local organic production according to the yield and yield stability analyses we performed," Swegarden said.

"Differences between the yield performance of commercial control cultivars and heirloom cultivars may seem drastic, but, when the economic incentives are considered, heirloom cultivars become a viable marketing option. Our results conclude that heirloom dry beans offer small-scale organic producers economic incentives and a niche in direct-to-consumer markets within the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota regions," the authors said.


The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site:

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