Dry beans are a big business in California. In 2011, growers harvested 45,000 acres of dry beans valued at $58 million. Lima beans accounted for about 40 percent of this total acreage, with California producing nearly 99 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of dry lima beans.
Why should we be so interested in beans? From a nutritional standpoint, dry beans are a healthy food choice - an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, plus they’re very low in fat. Organizations such as the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the USDA’s My Plate all recommend including beans in one’s diet to reduce cholesterol, maintain normal blood sugar and to maintain a healthy weight. The California Dry Bean Advisory Board posts many bean recipes on their website at http://calbeans.org/.
From a production standpoint, beans are a crucial crop for farmers. California growers produce four main classes of dry beans, including limas (large and baby), common beans (such as kidneys, pinks, whites, cranberries and blacks), garbanzos (chickpeas), and cowpeas (blackeye beans). Garbanzo beans are grown as a winter crop, while the others are produced in the summer. California’s dry beans are marketed throughout the world, including Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom. California also grows dry bean seed stock for export to other states and international markets.
In rotation with other crops beans help control weeds, add biomass to the soil via plant matter disked into the ground after harvest, and require relatively few pesticides. In addition, beans, as legumes, fix nitrogen from the air via nitrogen-fixing bacteria that colonize the roots, forming nodules. Cowpeas, for example, fix about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre, providing most of the nitrogen needs for this crop. Likewise, garbanzo beans require minimal nitrogen inputs for crop production. Economically, beans can enhance the annual farm profitability because common beans and cowpeas can be double-cropped with grains or forage crops, producing two crops in one year.
The participants learned about UC research trials, led by Paul Gepts, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, focus on dry bean breeding programs for pest and disease resistance, drought tolerance, organic production, and yield and quality increases. “Dry” refers to allowing the beans to fully mature and dry on the plants, as opposed to picking the beans green as a fresh market vegetable.
Many of today’s commercially grown dry beans come from University of California varieties, such as those shown at the UC Field Day. Seed germplasm for different genetic traits are selected from all over the world. The lima bean trial at UC Davis included 56 seed selection entries, the heirloom beans included 25 entries, and cranberries and pink beans had 134 entries. Earlier this year eight advanced line garbanzo entries were tested. UC Davis researchers work with hybrids produced by hand crosses to increase seed yield, quality, pest and disease resistance and plant vigor. They receive funding from a variety of sources including the California Dry Bean Advisory Board and USDA.
As shown from this field day, UC research is leading the way to ensuring that the future of California’s dry bean industry remains strong. These efforts will continue to enhance sustainable farming practices in our state and provide nutritional benefits to consumers.
So, the next time you’re in the produce section of your favorite grocery store, enjoy some California-grown beans. From the field to fork, these beans are the best of the best.
Blackeye bean production in California, UC ANR publication number 21518.
Common bean production in California, UC ANR publication 8402.